U.S. Rep. John Dingell ‘resting comfortably’ after heart procedure in Detroit

By Robert Allen, Eric D. Lawrence and Robin Erb

Detroit Free Press


(MCT) — A month after he announced plans to retire, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn was recuperating Thursday at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where he had what his office called a “minimally invasive procedure” to correct an abnormal heart rhythm.

The longest-serving member in Congress was “in good spirits, resting comfortably and is expected to be released” Thursday after being treated for atrial flutter, according to Henry Ford officials.

Atrial fibrillation and flutter are common but dangerous conditions in which the heart beats rapidly and irregularly.

Dingell, 87, announced Feb. 24 his intent to retire early next year as he finishes his two-year term — totaling about 60 years in Congress. His office did not offer details on when he was diagnosed or how the flutter was detected.

Some people have no symptoms of the conditions and it might be detected with an electrocardiogram, or EKG. Others feel as if their heart is racing, causing an uncomfortable “flopping” feeling in the chest, weakness, light-headedness, confusion, shortness of breath and chest pain.

Dingell previously said partisan gridlock led to his decision to retire. Age and health also played a role; the longest-serving member of Congress has, in recent years, used crutches or a wheelchair to get around.

“I’ve reached the age when people don’t buy green bananas,” he joked while making his retirement announcement before the Southern Wayne County Chamber of Commerce in Southgate. “And I don’t think that I can assure people that the green banana I buy today, I’m going to be around tomorrow to eat.”

Dingell has frequently played key roles in major legislation since his election in 1955 and is leaving with admiration and respect from both sides of the aisle.

A week after he announced his retirement, his wife, Deborah Dingell, 60, announced her campaign for the office — the 12th Congressional District covering parts of western Wayne and Washtenaw counties.

Atrial fibrillation occurs when the heart’s electrical signals cause the heart’s upper chambers, the atria, to beat quickly and irregularly. In atrial flutter, the heart’s lower chambers may beat very rapidly, but in a regular pattern.

In either condition, the heart may not be able to pump enough blood out to the body, leading to stroke or heart failure. And the conditions might occur together.

“And for all intents and purposes, they’re treated very similarly,” said Dr. Marc Lahiri, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Henry Ford Hospital.

There, more than 1,000 patients a year undergo electrophysiology procedures in which special electrode catheters are inserted into veins and guided toward the heart to examine electrical impulses in their heart.

The severity of the atrial fibrillation or flutter determines the treatment, said Lahiri, speaking in general about atrial fibrillation and not about a specific case. Blood thinners that cut the risk of stroke can help some patients live with atrial fibrillation. But that is possible only if the heart rate isn’t too rapid.

With an electrical cardioversion, doctors deliver an electrical shock to the heart of the sedated patient — much the same way shown in Hollywood’s portrayal of doctors in emergency rooms slamming paddles onto the chest of a heart attack patient.

The procedure interrupts the irregular rhythm and restores it to normal.

“It’s less dramatic,” than TV’s version of the procedure, Lahiri said. “It’s low-key. Typically patients go back into normal rhythm without fanfare.”

In some cases, though, that’s a temporary fix.

In a catheter ablation procedure, doctors use a catheter, threaded through vessels in the legs toward the heart, to burn away or freeze away part of the problematic tissue — very often the area where vessels feed the heart from the lung. The damage triggers the production of scar tissue that will interfere with future problematic electrical impulses.

“The veins are open, but the electrical connections are what we’re breaking,” Lahiri said.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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