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U of U Health Experts Get Utah Man's Irregular Heartbeat Back Under Control

Parker Donat

In his late 20s, Parker Donat was an active guy known for his dedicated gym routine. By age 33, he was struggling to keep up with his wife Kristi during hikes—even when she had their small son strapped to her chest. Parker couldn't figure out why he was always "dogging it."

In addition to feeling worn out all the time, Parker's heart pounded rapidly for seemingly no reason. The young dad had another strange symptom: It often felt like his heart was beating in his throat. It was so bad, he'd get light-headed and he had trouble swallowing. But he'd had the symptoms for years and didn't think much about it.

"I didn't know I didn't feel that good," Parker said. "I just thought it was normal."

It wasn't until he felt like he couldn't breathe and went to University of Utah Health's clinic in Farmington that he began to understand what was going on. Something was happening in his heart that was making it beat as if he were constantly running up a mountain.

Soon, Parker was visiting with a specialized heart expert called a cardiac electrophysiologist, who provides services at the Farmington Health Center.

"He walked in confidently and said he was pretty sure he knew exactly what it is," said Parker of Benjamin Steinberg, MD.

Turns out, Parker had atrial tachycardia, a disorder that causes the heart to "go haywire and just beat at its own rate—usually too fast and without a good reason (such as exercise, dehydration, or other illness)," Steinberg said.

"In these patients, the heart can essentially wear out and weaken just because it's going fast all the time," Steinberg said. "It would be like doing consistent aerobic exercise 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Some patients tolerate it but some develop symptoms of weakening heart and heart failure. When I first met him, I told him that we could try medicines but we could potentially cure it with an ablation."

Parker opted to try for a cure. During an ablation, electrophysiologists use advanced computing technology and catheters with electrodes at the tips to burn the part of the heart that's in disarray. Even with Parker's heart racing at more than 100 beats per minute, Steinberg was able to create a tiny scar at the exact point, just millimeters across, that was causing the problem.

"I think my favorite part of the story is that before the surgery my heart was at 100 beats per minute," Parker said. "When I woke up out of surgery I looked at the monitor, and it said 65 beats a minute."

The ablation worked. The chaos in Parker's chest had finally dissipated.

"It was fantastic. I was lucky enough to have a way to fix it," said Parker, who credits Farmington Health Center's model of coordinating care—from general practitioner to specialist—with finding a way to repair a problem that could've caused significant damage in the years to come.

"It's kind of crazy that all my doctors were involved, looking in my chart and connecting me to the right people," Parker said. "That's probably one of the best things I've noticed about U of U Health."

Steinberg said Parker may be entirely cured and may not require additional heart intervention.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't require anything else and is able to live a long and healthy life unaffected by this," Steinberg said. "I think this story reflects a good chain of referral and appropriate management of a young man who had, at the time, a serious problem that, fortunately, looks like it was reversible."