MUSC Health second in world to use new heart system

March 19, 2019
Albert Litster (A-fib patient)
Albert Litster gets ready for a procedure to treat his atrial fibrillation. Photo by Sarah Pack

At the age of 79, Albert Litster isn’t ready to hang up his bike helmet for good just yet. “Some days I can ride 42 miles. But I was always doing 125 miles a week at least.”

That was before atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat, first put the brakes on his biking in 2016. “I was out on the road and I just lost all energy. I had to stop.”

So the retired engineer, who lives in Bluffton, South Carolina, had a procedure called ablation. It intentionally damages the tissue that causes the irregular beat so the heart can get back to a healthy rhythm.

Then, when it was time for a second ablation, the septuagenarian cyclist found out he could become the first person in the United States to benefit from an upgraded heart mapping system at MUSC Health. “It’s a chance to do something good for people coming on after me. I feel good about it.”

Dr. Jeffrey Winterfield
Dr. Jeffrey Winterfield says research shows that new mapping software does a better job than humans. Photo by Brennan Wesley.

Cardiologist Jeffrey Winterfield does, too. He’s the Hank and Laurel Greer Endowed Chair in cardiac electrophysiology at MUSC Health. “We’re the second center in the world to use the brand-new version of the Carto electronic mapping system, which is what we use to navigate through people’s hearts during complex ablation procedures.”

Winterfield said the new system makes heart mapping more efficient and trustworthy. “It’s the form of almost, like weather maps, where you can see wind speed and wind direction. Now we can look at wave fronts of electrical activation through cardiac tissue, giving us not only a directionality but also conduction velocity. The arrows look just like the wind maps we see during hurricane season here in the Lowcountry.”

Biosense images of Albert Litster's heart
3D maps of Albert Litster's heart help his doctors pinpoint trouble spots. Images courtesy of Biosense Webster

Winterfield has been involved in the research on Carto. “This software does a better job than humans,” he said. “As a consultant, you are reimbursed for your time, but there’s no financial gain for me to talk about this product.”

He called MUSC Health a leader when it comes to complex ablation and innovation. “We take a team approach to managing some of the sickest and most complicated patients in the United States.”

Last year, he and his team were the second group in the country to use a new mapping catheter called the HD Grid to gives doctors more insight into the mechanisms of heart rhythm problems. And in 2017, Winterfield became the first in the U.S. to treat a patient with a new device that improved doctors’ ability to pinpoint and treat areas of the heart that cause atrial flutter.

Litster is pleased to have access to doctors doing cutting-edge work not far from his home in Bluffton, about two hours from Charleston. These days, he’s recovering and ready to hit the road again with his newly healed heart. “I just bought a new road bike six months ago. I’ve got to get out there.”

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