Ask an expert - Dr. Francisco Aguilar, cardiac electrophysiologist

What's the latest way to treat AFib?

Living in the town where he has worked for the last 14 years, Dr. Francisco Aguilar said he sometimes feels like the hometown country doctor. But there's nothing small-town about the major medical tools that Aguilar is able to offer as a cardiac electrophysiologist at UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Hinsdale.

The hospital is the first in the western suburbs to provide patients with access to the Farapulse Pulsed Field Ablation (PFA) System in the treatment of atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib. Over a one-week period in late May, Aguilar and two other UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Hinsdale doctors collectively and successfully performed nine cardiac procedures using the new technology.

AFib is a type of irregular heartbeat that often causes the heart to beat too quickly, causing an increased risk of heart failure or stroke. Aguilar said traditional ablation procedures involve freezing or burning tissue associated with a patient's abnormal heart rhythms. Too often, Aguilar said, the procedure sacrifices healthy tissue, raising risks for further complications. Farapulse uses non-thermal electric fields to allow the surgeon to pinpoint the affected tissue and protect the rest of the heart.

"It's focusing on what you want to focus on," he said.

That's important to both the patient and to Aguilar, who said seeing patients suffer from the often inevitable side effects of a traditional ablation is the hardest part of his job. He called it "a privilege" to work for a hospital that cares about offering the newest and best tools to its patients and its physicians.

"The introduction of PFA to our atrial fibrillation treatment toolkit allows for safer and faster treatment at a time when we are seeing more patients with this condition. We are excited to offer this cutting-edge technology to our community," Aguilar said.

According to the American Heart Association, AFib affects about 50 million people worldwide. Aguilar said the condition is becoming more common, likely due to the aging population. Age, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, diabetes, kidney problems and obesity all are conditions associated with an increased risk of heart arrhythmia.

Having performed cardiac ablation procedures for 14 years, Aguilar said the difference for the physician using the Farapulse technology is minimal, as it simply involves using a different catheter to perform ablation of the affected tissue. Because the procedure requires a cardiac electrophysiology lab, Hinsdale is currently the only UChicago Medicine AdventHealth location to offer the procedure.

The 12-year Hinsdale resident is married to infectious disease specialist Dr. Mai Pho. Their son is a rising St. Ignatius College Prep freshman and their daughter will be a Hinsdale Middle School eighth-grader.

In his career Aguilar has seen technology improve from guiding a catheter using only an X-ray image to the use of ultrasound, and finally, to the new technology just introduced. He said he anticipates performing many more Farapulse procedures as AFib cases continue to increase and as more patients learn of the method's advantages over traditional ablation tools.

"It's an exciting part to be involved with," Aguilar said.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean