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Sharp Health News

Expert treatment saves police officer just in time

Oct. 4, 2021

Caregiver looking at 3D imaging of heart on monitor

Experts at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center used 3D mapping technology to diagnose and treat Amner Garcia-Hernandez’ heart problem.

Every year, more than 300,000 people die from sudden cardiac death, often without warning or symptoms that would indicate a problem. Amner Garcia-Hernandez might have been one of them had the abnormality in his heart not been detected by a job-mandated electrocardiogram (EKG) and expertly treated in the new, state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization lab at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.

Amner, 33, was in exceptional shape and had recently been selected to join the San Diego Police Department. The City Heights resident was eager to become a police officer to serve his community and help people. He wasn’t experiencing symptoms, and he didn’t have a family history of heart issues, but he was required to have an EKG as part of the medical clearance required to join the San Diego Police.

Amner Garcia-Hernandez (left) and his colleague (right)

Amner Garcia-Hernandez (left) is on his way to becoming a San Diego police officer.
 

It was a surprise when the EKG picked up something unusual. He was referred to Dr. Steven Carlson, medical director of electrophysiology at Sharp Chula Vista, who quickly put together a plan to keep Amner safe while patrolling the streets of San Diego.

“In Amner’s case, we discovered an extra piece of heart tissue, known as an accessory pathway. These pathways are electrical connections that can sometimes contribute to dangerous arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat). Each case is different. Some pathways are benign, and others can be life-threatening,” says Dr. Carlson. “We found that his pathway could conduct electricity at rates up to 260 beats per minute. If atrial fibrillation were to occur in the future, this could be extremely dangerous and lead to passing out and possibly death. Thus, we decided to eliminate it.”

Amner recalls, “Dr. Carlson said, ‘I know you’re going to be on your feet a lot and running and facing high-stress situations.’ He explained that the worst-case scenario could happen in a split second: My heart rate could become very high, then my heart could stop and I could die.”

In the new cardiac catheterization lab at Sharp Chula Vista, which opened this past summer, Dr. Carlson used cutting-edge mapping technology to identify the problematic pathway in Amner’s heart quickly and with high precision, and then removed it using a surgical procedure called ablation. The mapping technology is one of the things that makes the lab unique.

“With this new mapping technology, we’re no longer just looking at a patient’s heart, we’re reconstructing a full 3D electro-anatomical map,” says Sherman Johnson, cardiology lead. “Subtle, hard-to-see differences in the heart is where the problem may lie, so it’s exciting that we’re able to take a deeper, closer look at each electrical impulse of our patients’ hearts and provide them with superior care.”

Dr. Carlson adds, “An EKG is a quick and widely available tool to help evaluate for cardiac electrical abnormalities. Anyone who is considering a high risk activity or occupation should see a physician for screening.”

Learn more about heart and vascular care at Sharp HealthCare.

For the news media: To speak with Amner Garcia-Hernandez or Dr. Steven Carlson for an upcoming story, please contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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