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Dr. Neal LittleTriathlete Doctor Cured of Atrial Fibrillation

Dr. Neal Little, an emergency medicine doctor in Chelsea, Mich., has always been an athlete. At the age of 16 Dr. Little started participating in endurance athletics and has not stopped since. He has been to six world triathlon championships and a dozen national triathlon championships since he transitioned from marathon running to competitive triathlons more than 20 years ago. Needless to say, Dr. Little has been in excellent health and became alarmed when he started experiencing an occasional spike in his heart rate when he exercised.

“Seven or eight years ago when I qualified for a world championship I got a coach and got really serious about training. I started training with a heart monitor and I would notice that every now and then it read really high,” Little said.

At first, the abnormal heart rhythms for Dr. Little only happened once or twice a month and were not interfering with his daily activities. Over time, the fluctuations in Dr. Little’s heart rhythm became more frequent. Knowing the risk for stroke, Dr. Little decided to see a cardiologist who determined that Dr. Little had atrial fibrillation (A-fib), a common heart rhythm disorder caused by a problem in the conduction of electrical impulses in the upper chambers, or atria, of the heart.

Now knowing the cause of his irregular heart rhythms, Dr. Little was faced with the decision of how he would treat this disease. While medication is common for A-fib treatment, Dr. Little was concerned with how medication would affect his athletic lifestyle. After much thought and consultation with cardiologists, Dr. Little opted to undergo the Wolf-Mini-Maze procedure at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, a unique, state-of-the-art, minimally invasive surgical approach which is much more than just a treatment; it is a cure for A-fib.

The Wolf-Mini-Maze procedure is revolutionary because it allows doctors to test the treatment before the patient leaves the operating room to ensure success. Dr. Little was particularly attracted to this aspect of the procedure, as well as the success rate and short recovery time associated with it. Doctors at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor report a 90 percent success rate with this procedure.

Within only a few days of the surgery, Dr. Little was able to walk in his neighborhood and use a stationary bike, within another few weeks he began running and swimming, and a little over three months after the surgery, Dr. Little started training for a triathlon world championship.

“The triathlon has been a big part of my life and I wanted to keep it that way.”

After years of uncertainty and discomfort, Dr. Little is back to his old self. He is no longer worried about when his heart rhythm may interfere with one of the most important things in his life: being able to compete in triathlons. His decision to undergo the Wolf-Mini-Maze treatment cured him of A-fib and has allowed him to continue living the athletic lifestyle he has always loved.