Keeping pace with heart arrhythmias

Massive heart attacks could have taken his life

Tonii Rizzo is a model of good health. The 65-year old’s heart-healthy numbers are exemplary for someone of any age, and he enjoys an active life — even having competed in marathons. Even so, in April 2006 and 2011, massive heart attacks could have taken his life. They were the result of 100 percent blockages of Rizzo’s left anterior descending artery. He has since been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, which can cause atrial fibrillation, a type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat.

According to Rizzo’s cardiologist, Janet L. Smith, M.D., atrial fibrillation is the most common serious arrhythmia and a leading cause of hospital admissions, strokes and congestive heart failure.

“In atrial fibrillation, the electrical activity in the upper chambers of the heart becomes disorganized,” Dr. Smith said. “The pulse is usually rapid and irregular. Patients often complain of palpitations and may be short of breath or fatigued.”

Dr. Smith is quick to point out that one of the biggest problems with atrial fibrillation is the increased risk of blood clots forming in an upper chamber of the heart, which could result in stroke. Goals for treatment include controlling the heart rate and preventing blood clots from forming. According to Dr. Smith, medications are the mainstay of treatment and prevention.

To combat his coronary artery disease, Rizzo takes medications to regulate his heartbeat and prevent blood clots. He gets regular physicals and other tests to monitor his heart health and prevent future heart attacks.

“I know my history and heart statistics, so I ask for these tests to be proactive in my heart health,” Rizzo said. Inspired by his experiences with heart conditions, Rizzo is active in his local chapter of the American Heart Association, where he will take the gavel as president later this year.

“My message is to the healthy people who are unaware of the dangers of heart disease — especially through genetics,” Rizzo said. “Many healthy people think heart disease can’t happen to them, but it can. It happened to me.”


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