February 14, 2019

Embracing life with each beat of his heart

Steve Pietrek’s life is back in sync thanks to the expert cardiac care he received at Kaiser Permanente.

Steve Pietrek lives life to its fullest, whether he’s traveling with his girlfriend, driving his ATV, or playing with his granddaughter.

That enthusiasm was shaken when he suffered a major heart attack aboard a Caribbean cruise ship.

“Everything went sideways,” Pietrek said.

Determined to get the best care for her boyfriend, Jan Martin had him flown to Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Clara Medical Center.

“Steve had been through a lot,” said Taylor Liu, MD, chief of cardiac electrophysiology. In addition to his heart attack, Pietrek had suffered two strokes. Now he was passing out on a regular basis.

A chaotic heartbeat

“When patients pass out after a heart attack, we always worry that it may be due to cardiac arrhythmia,” said Dr. Liu.

He confirmed that Pietrek was experiencing ventricular fibrillation, a type of arrhythmia in which the heart quivers uselessly instead of pumping blood.

To restore Pietrek’s normal heart rhythm, Dr. Liu implanted a defibrillator in his chest, which delivered an electrical pulse each time the arrhythmia began. When the episodes accelerated, Dr. Liu studied the tracings from Pietrek’s electrocardiogram and made an important discovery.

“I noticed that every time the ventricular fibrillation started, it was coming from the same location in his heart,” where scar tissue had built up, he said.

To fix the problem, Dr. Liu performed a catheter ablation, inserting a thin, flexible tube into a blood vessel in Pietrek’s groin and guiding it to the heart using a remote steering system.

Restoring his rhythm

“We burned the abnormal cells, and all of the arrhythmia stopped,” said Dr. Liu. “It was a moment of joy.”

Now back at home, Pietrek is committed to improving his heart health. He keeps his weight down, limits his salt intake, and goes to the gym several times a week.

“I beat the odds so far, and I want to continue doing it,” he said. “Thanks to Dr. Liu, I think I have a pretty good chance.”

Learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s pioneering work to prevent and treat  heart disease.