High School Senior with Heart Disorder Finds Cure at Bay Medical
Christa Dean Hild
Jay Burkey was in the final month of his senior year in high school when he started having trouble breathing. After a quick trip to the family doctor and a prescription for medication to treat bronchitis, he put his mind back on school. However a few days later he started to feel worse. Much worse. In addition to trouble breathing, his chest hurt and he felt light headed and nauseous. His mother, Melanie, took him to a local emergency room fearing a severe asthma attack.
“In the ER my blood pressure was really low, like 60 over 40 and then my heart rate spiked up to 300 beats a minute,” said Burkey. “I could see my mom at the foot of my bed in the ER and then everything went black.” Burkey was in cardiac arrest. His heart had stopped for 50 seconds until external defibrillators shocked his heart back into action. Later in intensive care, his cardiologist explained what had happened. Burkey had Wolff-Parkinson White syndrome (WPW), a heart rhythm disorder that causes a very fast heart rate. He was quickly transferred to Bay Medical-Sacred Heart in order to receive treatment from Dr. Hari Baddigam, a cardiologist who specializes in electrophysiology.
“In a normal heart, electrical signals travel certain pathways in order to trigger the contraction, or pumping, of the upper and lower chambers,” said Dr. Baddigam. “These signals pass through nodes which control the heart beat. With WPW, an extra electrical pathway connects the two upper chambers of the heart and bypasses the node, which allows an abnormally fast heart rate called supraventricular tachycardia.” Symptoms of WPW often start during the teen or young adult years. The condition is most commonly diagnosed by an electrocardiogram (ECG) reading. While normal adults have heart rates of 60 to 100 beats per minute, people with WPW can have episodes with heart rates of 160 to 220 beats per minute. These episodes, like Burkey experienced, can in some cases be life threatening.
Bay Medical-Sacred Heart is the only hospital in the region with the electrophysiology equipment needed to treat Burkey’s condition. In the cath lab at Bay Medical, Dr. Baddigam was able to map the electrical pathways in Burkey’s heart. Once the location of the extra pathway was identified, Dr. Baddigam performed a minimally invasive procedure called a catheter ablation. “During this procedure, radiofrequency energy is used to ablate, or burn, a tiny area of the heart muscle in order to create scar tissue which blocks the extra electrical signal,” said Dr. Baddigam. The procedure is performed through a tiny incision to access an artery, where a small, thin, flexible tube is navigated through the blood vessels to reach the heart. For patients with WPW, a catheter ablation procedure has a 95 percent success rate and is a cure for the disorder.
Burkey stayed in the hospital for a few days after his procedure and returned to school the next week, just in time for finals and graduation. “We are just so grateful to Bay Medical and to Dr. Baddigam,” said Burkey’s mom Melanie. “I literally went from fearing for my son’s life, to hearing that he has been cured in just a few days. I will never forget how Jay, and really our whole family, was helped through this very scary time.” Have things changed for Jay Burkey since his stay in Bay Medical? With high school and WPW behind him, he is headed to FSU in the Fall and will be studying biology and chemistry with the long term goal of going to medical school.
What is Electrophysiology?
Cardiac electrophysiology is the science of diagnosing and treating any abnormal electrical activities of the heart. Electrophysiology (EP) is a subspecialty of cardiology that requires several additional years of training following a cardiology fellowship. Electrophysiologists are trained to perform EP studies of the heart to identify abnormal heart rhythms and also to surgically place implanted devices such as pacemakers and ICDs (defibrillators) to treat both arrhythmias and heart failure. To become board certified in electrophysiology not only requires many additional years of training and expertise, but a dedication to treating these disorders. Worldwide there are approximately 2,000 board certified electrophysiologists and Bay Medical is fortunate to have two on our medical staff - Hari Baddigam, M.D. and Joe Trantham, M.D. Bay Medical is also the only hospital in the region with the advanced technology needed to perform EP studies and for optimal treatment of cardiac rhythm disorders.