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Former member of the U.S. rowing team Michael Cataldo rowed his heart out last weekend during the annual Head of the Charles Regatta, finishing 15th in the men’s senior-master’s singles division. Despite learning two month before the race that he had a cardiac arrhythmia, Cataldo was able to compete fiercely, thanks to a robotic catheter ablation at BWH.
His procedure marked the first time that a New England hospital used a new robotic controlled catheter, which benefits both the physician and the patient.
“This new technology allows the physician greater control and stability while positioning the catheter within the heart, hopefully shortening procedure times and increasing patient safety,” said Laurence Epstein, MD, chief of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at BWH, who performed the procedure on Cataldo in September.
Arrythmias, or electrical problems of the heart, affect millions of people each year. Symptoms of arrhythmia may include feelings of light-headedness or passing out. Cataldo experienced neither symptom while he trained intensely for this year’s Head of the Charles, which was to be his first race rowing a single scull.
“The last few years, I rowed with a friend of mine in the double sculls race more for fun, so our training wasn’t intense,” said Cataldo, who has competed in the Head of the Charles about 25 times. “This year, I decided to train more seriously and row in the singles event.”
As he worked out on an indoor rowing machine and watched his heart monitor, he saw his heart rate bolt to 170, then 190 when it should have been 140. “I thought my monitor was broken because I didn’t feel like my heart was beating that fast,” said Cataldo, who has been rowing since his high school days at St. John’s in Shrewsbury.
Cataldo bought a new monitor, but the numbers were still abnormal. He told his doctor and, after an EKG, he was referred to Epstein at BWH, where he learned that his heart rate was getting so high—more than 225 beats per minute—that it could not refill with blood between beats and, as a result, his body was not receiving enough oxygen.
A stress test verified that Cataldo had an atrial tachycardia, a type of arrhythmia that caused a sudden soar in his heart rate, leaving Cataldo gasping for breath and fatigued.
The three-hour cardiac catheterization procedure changed all that. “Everything went exceedingly well,” Epstein said of the procedure, his first using the robotic tool.
Just one week later, Cataldo was back on the water training for his first competition in a singles division. “I notice a huge difference,” he said. “My heart rate is much more predictable. I feel I can work as hard as I want without any problems.”