Getting Back to Golabki After Atrial Fibrillation

BIDMC Contributor

NOVEMBER 18, 2021


BIDMC Patient Ella K at European Baltic Deli

A Polish grocer undergoes a procedure to restore a normal heartbeat

A small door opens into a bright market filled with Eastern European groceries and prepared foods. The deli is filled with fresh kielbasa, and the refrigerated cases are stocked with several kinds of pierogi, golabki (cabbage rolls), and homemade soups. The European Baltic Deli is a beloved store in a Polish neighborhood of South Boston. Keeping the doors open seven days a week, however, requires a lot of work. Store manager Elzbieta (Ella) Kajewska is used to lifting boxes and being on her feet for much of the day, but she felt something wasn't right a few years ago.

"Sometimes during the day and before I fell asleep, I could feel my heart flip-flopping. It made me anxious," she said.

She talked to her primary care physician and was referred to Eli Gelfand, MD, Section Chief of General Cardiology at BIDMC, to determine the cause of her heart palpitations. After an exam and electrocardiogram, Dr. Gelfand determined that she had atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that sometimes causes poor blood flow. They reviewed the options and decided to try managing the condition with medication.

"Arrhythmia medications work by slowing conduction of electrical impulses," explains Dr. Gelfand. "It's usually the first tool of many that we use to help restore the normal rhythm of the heart." The palpitations decreased but still occurred, and Ella didn't want to continue taking pills indefinitely. A year later, she was ready to consider other options, including ablation.

Catheter ablation is a procedure to treat cardiac arrhythmias, using heat or cold to destroy an area of tissue involved in the arrhythmia and restore a normal heartbeat. This type of ablation is most often done using thin, flexible tubes called catheters inserted through the veins or arteries to the heart.

"Honestly, I was terrified," said Ella.

Meeting with staff in the BIDMC Atrial Fibrillation Clinic was a vital part of the process. Ella talked with Cardiac Electrophysiology Nurse Practitioner Hieu Tieu several times to answer all her questions and help overcome her fears. She also noted that Dr. Gelfand was also kind and caring as she came to a decision. In June, Andre d'Avila, MD, an international expert in ablation techniques and Chief of Arrhythmia Services at BIDMC, performed the procedure.

“Catheter ablation has a high success rate at restoring a normal heartbeat,” said Dr. d’Avila.

After the procedure, Ella remembered that Hieu was at her bedside the following morning asking her how she felt. She was touched and grateful to see her.

"I'm happy with the results from the procedure," Ella said recently. While she's still working with Dr. Gelfand on balancing medications, everything has returned to normal. She's back to greeting customers at the deli and lifting boxes of groceries. And when her heart flutters, like it did when meeting a new baby last month, it's purely out of joy for her growing group of grandchildren.

Email us or call 617-667-8800 to schedule an appointment. Learn more about arrhythmia care and treatment.
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