BARRINGTON – Sgt. John Thibault of the Wauconda Police Department used to avoid going to the doctor.
But that all changed after he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, also known as A-fib.
According to the American Heart Association, A-fib affects nearly 3 million Americans. The disorder occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions. Instead of a normal electrical signal prompting muscles in both chambers of the heart to work uniformly, rogue heart cells generate additional signals. This causes the heart muscles to contract at different times.
Thibault decided to share his experience with others in a Youtube video, which can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rndEHXQuriU.
Before the diagnosis, Thibault thought he had a nagging chest cold. After he thought the chest cold had cleared, he felt a palpitation, or flutter, in his chest and felt something “wasn’t right,” he said.
Being a “typical guy” he waited a few weeks for the feelings to go away, he said.
But his symptoms persisted, and a conversation with co-worker Sgt. Ted Hennessy led him to finally make an appointment with his doctor.
“When I started mentioning I was having these issues [Hennessy] said I better go to the doctor,” Thibault said. “He said, ‘Go to the doctor because if you die, I have to do this on my own.’ ”
Although the comment was made in jest, it stuck with Thibault, who has two daughters at home, 13-year-old Samantha and 12-year-old Alyia.
With no family history or previous heart issues, Thibault was hesitant to think anything serious could be wrong. He was a regular jogger and was not experiencing shortness of breath or anything other than palpitations.
But, he made an appointment, which led to the diagnosis of A-fib. Despite adjustments in medication, the doctor was unable to suppress the heart rhythm disorder.
“It’s scary though because I later learned with heart rhythm problems, if I didn’t do anything, I could start having blood clots or possibly a stroke,” Thibault said.
Thibault was referred to specialist Dr. Mehran Jabbarzadeh, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington.
“Although atrial fibrillation itself usually isn’t life threatening, it is a serious medical condition that sometimes requires emergency treatment, and we didn’t want that to happen to John,” Jabbarzadeh said.
So the two began talking about a catheter ablation procedure, which can be done using either heat or cold, with the freezing procedure being the newer of the two. They decided on the freezing procedure.
“It is a faster procedure with slightly less procedural complications, with the same results,” Jabbarzadeh said.
The procedure was conducted in April 2012, with Thibault spending just one night in the hospital.
He was back to work within a few days and jogging three weeks later. Four months after the procedure he ran 5.1 miles in a torch run for the Special Olympics.
“I’m not exactly 22 or 23 years old anymore,” Thibault said, adding at that age, there is a sense of invincibility. “I’m getting older. I want to make sure the system is going to work as long as it can. You only get one heart.”
Because of his experience with Jabbarzadeh, Thibault said, “I’m not afraid to go to the doctor anymore.”
Following the procedure, Thibault had to go for follow-ups every six months and is doing well.
Jabbarzadeh said A-fib is the most common heart rhythm problem in the United States. Lots of times, it is unknown what causes A-fib in people – like in Thibault’s case – but common causes are sleep apnea, untreated high blood pressure, obesity, a genetic predisposition or structural heart disease.