While studying to get his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, James McKinnie decided to take a job as an orderly at West Jefferson Medical Center in coronary care. It was a move that ended up changing his life.
“I just became fascinated with heart rhythms,” McKinnie says. “The heart is such an incredible organ and when things go wrong with it, there is this need in me to find out why.”
The New Orleans native has spent the last almost three decades figuring out the whys and hows of heart irregularities as a cardiologist/electrophysiologist. He works a lot with cases of atrial fibrillation – abnormal heart rhythms in the upper chambers.
“We’re seeing more and more cases of atrial fibrillation as people have started to live longer,” he explains. “It’s estimated that if you live over 80, you have a one in four chance of having it.”
While the condition can incapacitate a person in 30-40 percent of cases, another one-third may have atrial fibrillation and not even know it.
McKinnie’s practice focuses on using a procedure called catheter ablation to destroy the area of the heart that’s causing the rhythm problem. He says the field, along with the need, is “growing in leaps and bounds.”
One of McKinnie’s toughest cases, he says, was someone who came to him that had been living with atrial fibrillation for more than 10 years and had never received any relief.
“He had really given up,” McKinnie says. “When he came in, he said he didn’t feel that bad, but then after a seven- or eight-hour procedure in our hybrid operating room, he was able to be restored to normal. He was surprised at how good he felt. He didn’t know feeling like that was possible.”
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