Diary of a former AF sufferer April 2005- October 2009


Began experiencing weird and irregular heart rhythm from time to time. Put this down to some kind of mid-life crisis (had passed the 50 watershed a couple of years before), stress, overwork etc and hoped it would just go away. (Not the most sensible idea)


Far from going away the problem intensified and I was in danger of hitting the floor while at the chalk face – I object to providing children with free extracurricular entertainment!

Finally visited my GP and reported that I was suffering from an irregular heartbeat.

Then ensued the whole gamut of tests – thyroid function, bloods, ECG, ultrasound, even the DIY heart monitoring kit, into which I fondly remember plugging on Christmas morning somewhere in the middle of the turkey and veg preparations. Final result – a letter from the hospital informing me that I had -  yes, -  an irregular heartbeat!!

No mention of AF at this stage, but some pills (which made no appreciable difference).


As above – no change.  Still fibrillating with the best of them. This time took the opportunity to cut the workload to part time – definitely one of my better ideas.

Routine annual ultrasound in December produced the happy news that the condition was not serious and that if no further deterioration occurred in the next 12 months I would be signed off. Much relief and rejoicing.


Was now enjoying the freedom of part time work so much that I decided to take early retirement.  Very, very good idea.

Attended the annual echocardiogram session in December hoping to be dismissed with a good report, but to my horror was threatened with an immediate transfer to A&E – heart rate was now at a steady 140+ per minute and there seemed to be some surprise that I was still upright, never mind functioning apparently quite normally and trying to get the Christmas shopping done.  This time AF and full-time flutter were diagnosed and I was referred to LHCH.  BEST idea yet.


There I met Dr Gupta of whose skills – medical first and foremost, but also interpersonal -  I cannot speak too highly*. He was massively reassuring and in no doubt that he could sort the problem out (under local anaesthetic) in a day. I was right to believe him. In February I underwent a catheter ablation and was home the next day, beating at a steady 70 pm for the first time in 4 years: quite a result.

At the time of writing I have a little ongoing fibrillation and have tried the dreaded Flecainide on a ‘pill in the pocket’ basis when I know the rhythm is on the blink. I have to say that this produces much the same effect as half a bottle of vodka so am trying to manage without it for now as the AF symptoms are mild and occasional. However things develop from now on, it’s good to know that another ‘quick (and permanent) fix’ is available if the problem doesn’t go away of its own accord.

* Reader please note that no incentives were offered for this recommendation!!!

Footnote – I was surprised that a period over two years elapsed from the first visit to the doctor to the first mention of AF and a referral to a specialist.  This is a pity, as a cure can follow a diagnosis so rapidly.

Meanwhile life is good – I spend most of my time on holiday, walking (see photo!), pursuing various interests and socialising as if there were no tomorrow – although I think now, that there is! 

I can heartily recommend catheter ablation to anyone offered the opportunity of this brief and painless procedure and am very, very grateful for the benefits it has given me.

In 1999 the company I was working for in Holland asked me to go to their UK subsidiary in Liverpool for a one year secondment.  Before going to the UK I had to undergo a medical for insurance purposes. The doctor asked me at the end of the examination whether I had appointments for the rest of that day. I was quite surprised about that question, not knowing that from that moment onwards my life – at least for a decade – would change quite considerably. The GP performing the insurance check up informed me that he had detected some cardiac abnormalities and on his strong advice I went that same day to the nearest hospital where they put me on a drip. They told me I was suffering from arrhythmias. They informed me that they couldn’t get the arrhythmias under control, which meant that I had immediately to start with anti-arrhythmic drugs as well as anti-coagulant therapy. At that moment I didn’t understand why I had to take this medication and especially the anti-coagulants as the arrhythmias didn’t cause me any problems. However, the hospital staff explained to me that arrhythmias are a major cause of stroke so I was advised to adhere strictly to their instructions.

Despite the unforeseen medical problems I started working in the UK. However, this meant I had regularly to go back to Holland for medical check-ups. In the years to come I got in addition to several types of medication, also many cardio-versions. Unfortunately they were either not successful or their success only lasted for a few days/weeks long. Every time this was quite a disappointment. It meant that I had to continue treatment, especially anticoagulant treatment, because the risk of stroke was always present.

After four years of arrhythmias they started to influence my daily life. I felt sweaty and dizzy on a regular basis, sometimes even after minor exercise. The cardiologist treating me at that moment didn’t see a solution by conventional therapy and suggested I should apply for ablation therapy that as I understood, meant isolating certain electric pathways in the heart. In 2004 this therapy was still in its infancy. One of the leading of hospitals for this treatment in the Netherlands was Maastricht University Hospital and I started to attend there. They informed me that a hundred percent success rate could not be given. However, there would be a good chance of improvement. Indeed, the arrhythmias after the intervention were less severe and less frequent, however despite additional drug treatment they unfortunately didn’t disappear.

My secondment, originally intended for only one year, had turned out into a permanent UK contract. This together with the fact that I had married my wife Sandra meant that I had become a permanent UK resident. My GP in Liverpool referred me to Dr. Gupta at Broadgreen hospital. He informed me that ablation therapy had advanced a lot since 2004 and that it would be worthwhile to try this treatment option again. Initially I had some hesitation, but realised that doing nothing was not really an option.

So, in December 2008 I underwent my second ablation. Dr. Gupta’s team made me feel like a participant in the whole process. After a day I was out of hospital and after some 14 days of recovery I felt good as new. Its now been more than 12 months since then and I am free of all symptoms and medications.

I want to thank all those people who helped my during my journey to recovery, it took a decade, but was eventually worth the effort.

I was diagnosed with persistent AF in 2004. Following 2 electrical cardioversions and various drug therapies with at best temporary success over a 3 year period I was referred to Dr Gupta at L.H.C.H in 2007.


I was assessed as suitable for a Pulmonary Vein Isolation procedure and the process and risks were fully explained to me. I was 62 at the time and otherwise quite fit and I opted to accept the treatment.


The procedure was performed in January 2008. It was uncomfortable but pain relief was administered on demand as the ablation (burning) felt like acute heart-burn, which in fact it was. This whole process took 4 hrs and left me feeling quite exhausted. Recovery was reasonably swift, although the leg bruising took some 3 wks to clear. I resumed manual work after 2 wks and my heart resumed consistent sinus rhythm after 4. Medication was discontinued at 6 months. I remained in sinus rhythm for 12 months living a full active life until I started to have occasional (paroxysmal) bouts of AF which were controlled by Flecainide. These became longer and more frequent with time and a second PVI was recommended on the basis of there being new equipment now available enabling more accurate targeting of the ablation.


This was carried out in March this year taking only 2½ hrs, producing far less bruising and resulting in my achieving steady sinus rhythm in 4 days. I was back at work in a fortnight. After 3 months I was taken off medication and was feeling fit, strong and confident.


On the whole the PVI experience was very positive and the team totally supportive throughout the treatment, and of course the monitoring continues. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I noted that my heart dropped into AF again on Sat 3rd July. Although the episode spontaneously terminated to normal rhythm, the saga, it seems, continues.

Ms Alison Howard, Liverpool

Arthur’s story: a decade of arrhythmias

Mr Arthur Leitjen, Netherlands and Liverpool

Mr Michael Cussans, Liverpool

Atrial Fibrillation: the never ending saga

I had been reasonably fit throughout an active life, when I experienced a completely unexpected heart attack as I awoke on the morning of Valentine’s Day in 1995.  Fortunately, as a result of the excellent response of the ambulance service and the subsequent hospital care, I made a good recovery, and within a few months was enjoying an active lifestyle again. 

A further twelve years went by.  Cycling and Dancing regularly (and frequently!) had become my two principal forms of exercise, including quite energetic Morris Dancing, and the heart attack was only sometimes remembered (with a degree of surprise) as Valentine’s Day came around. Then, I began to experience that sometimes, in a more demanding dance, I would run out of breath. What I had formerly done with ease was now forcing me to a standstill.   Since it was a new and puzzling symptom, with no hint of angina or other chest pain, I mentioned it at my end-of-year “Well Man” check-up at the GP’s clinic.  An ECG immediately revealed “AF” – something completely new to me, and I found myself admitted to hospital with haste. I was prescribed the recognized medication, which didn’t seem to ameliorate the persistent AF, or resolve the irregular heart-rate, although it became somewhat slower.

In due course, as an Outpatient, I had an Electro Cardio-Version, which was successful, and I regained some of my former vitality.   However, a follow-up examination, a month or so later, revealed that I had reverted to “AF”; my partner could see that my outlook was changing and once again, with just slight exertion, I was struggling for breath. 

Also, at about this time, I chanced to read in my local newspaper, a brief item advertising a public lecture, organised by the LHCH Trust, outlining the Catheter Ablation procedure that was being performed at the Hospital.  On attending this lecture, it immediately seemed this could be the appropriate treatment for my problem.

I tried to persuade the Consultant that I was seeing at “follow up clinics”, that I would dearly like to be considered for the Catheter Ablation (PVI) procedure.  Sadly, he didn’t see it with the same expectations as I did, stressing a possible risk of stroke, when I “could finish up with an even poorer quality of life”.  I asked around, even in the special “Stroke Unit” within the same hospital, what instances they might have encountered of Stroke following PVI : the answer was “none”.

Over the following months whilst seeing the Consultant on a regular basis, I continued on a (much resented) cocktail of medication, had various extended recordings of heart rhythm, an exercise test and an echo-cardiogram.  This revealed some heart muscle damage which simply provided another “justification” for me not to be referred for Ablation.    A further nine months had now gone by and I was feeling that there was little joy in life, largely because I was trying to come to terms with the idea that I had reached the end of my dancing days!  Finally, my partner accompanied me to one of these follow-up clinics, and emphasised how much better I had been immediately following the Cardio Version; this was the breakthrough! and I was finally referred to LHCH for  consideration for Ablation.To my great joy, I was accepted, placed on Dr Gupta’s List, and had the procedure early in the following year – some 18 months after the original diagnosis.

I was amazed at the immediate transformation; convalescence was surprisingly brief and pain free; my whole outlook was now so much brighter; my former vitality had returned, and I had a new spring in my step!   I eased myself back into dancing, and now, a year later, find myself able to keep up with “youngsters” who are some 20 years my junior!  I can ride my bike uphill and operate stiff and difficult locks on my travels on the Waterways canals.

I can only express my greatest gratitude to Dr Gupta and his team for giving me back a full Life and would hasten to re-assure anyone with doubts about having the procedure.


Dancing to a Normal Beat

Mr Arthur Ronald, 74 years, Warrington

Successful Catheter Ablation for Persistent AF