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Racing rhythms

Runner regains his stride after Afib treatment.

Article Author: Emily Sharpe

Article Date:

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Exercise has become a way of life for Timur Ozgur, so when his running performance and endurance began to wane, he suspected something might be wrong.

At first, the 52-year-old brushed off the little flutters he felt in his chest. “I had a history of gastric reflux, so I thought it was no big deal and ignored it,” said Ozgur, a CT scan technologist at Baptist Medical Center South. Then came the dizzy spells and heart palpitations, which again he dismissed, thinking stress was the likely culprit.

In early 2023, he often had to cut his runs short when he’d become breathless. By spring, his palpitations intensified, lasting up to 24 hours.

“I’d be walking or running and suddenly feel like I was going to pass out,” he said. It soon progressed to where his heart would race while he was at rest. “I’d be sitting on my couch and my smart watch would show my heart rate at 180 or 190 beats per minute, when normal is between 60 and 100. At that point, I knew something was definitely wrong.”

After seeing his primary care physician Richard Bowles, MD, and cardiologist Nehu Patel, MD, FACC, Ozgur discovered he had atrial fibrillation (Afib), a common but serious heart rhythm disorder that can lead to heart failure and stroke if left untreated. He soon found himself in the office of Baptist Heart Specialists clinical cardiac electrophysiologist Aaditya Vora, MD.

Afib in athletes

While many may not associate physically fit people with having a heart condition like Afib, Dr. Vora said Afib is common in endurance athletes. It occurs because the heart’s upper chamber can become enlarged from having to beat so fast. Like Ozgur, these athletes tend to have lower resting heart rates, which can make treating their condition more difficult because many medications for Afib slow the heart rate and theirs is already low.

“Timur didn’t want to take medications that would affect his ability to exercise the way he wanted, so we discussed ablation as a treatment,” said Dr. Vora. The minimally invasive procedure uses radiofrequency energy to eliminate the small areas of heart tissue that are causing the irregular heartbeat.

Ablation procedures are now considered to be a first line treatment for Afib.

“The outcomes and safety of the procedure are so good now that it’s on par with medication as a treatment,” explained Dr. Vora. Advancements in technologies like Pulsed Field Ablation, which isolates and targets only the heart cells causing irregular heartbeats, have also helped to make ablation a go-to therapy.

Dr. Vora encourages patients who are considering the procedure to do it before the disease progresses further.

“When you transition from one form of Afib to the next and the episodes become more frequent and prolonged, the success rate of either form of treatment [medication or ablation] can decrease by up to 30%,” he said.
Ozgur had his ablation at the new Heart Rhythm Center at Baptist Medical Center Jacksonville in November 2023 and was able to leave the same day. “They got me right in, took me back and I woke up feeling like I’d had the best sleep of my life,” he said.

 The South Dashers Run Club

The South Dashers Run Club

Back to running

Ozgur went for his first run two weeks after his procedure and hasn’t stopped since. While his athletic performance isn’t yet at the same level it once was, he no longer has Afib symptoms and he’s back to running and exercising several times a week. In April 2024, he participated in his first 5K race since the procedure, and he didn’t run it alone – he was joined by members of the South Dashers Run Club, the running club he started at Baptist South.

So, what advice does Ozgur have for others who suspect something might be wrong with their health?

“First of all, don't ignore the symptoms as long as I did. When you start feeling something isn’t right, go get it checked,” he said. “I was a little nervous, but my experience was a positive one. And the whole process – from seeing my primary care doctor to being referred to my cardiologist and Dr. Vora – was so smooth. I had a great, professional team and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.”

Baptist Health’s Heart Rhythm Center provides specialized care to people with heart rhythm disorders. If you have questions about Afib, or would like to request an appointment with a cardiologist, visit baptistjax.com/heart or call 904.720.0799.

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