At the end of January 2012, father of two Ad Langendonk underwent a minimally-invasive catheter ablation procedure at the Catharina Hospital (Eindhoven, The Netherlands) to cure his heart arrhythmia. Over the past year and a half, Ad has shared his experiences, before, during and after the operation, with almost two thousand followers on Twitter, highlighting the positive impact of the operation on his and his family’s quality of life. Throughout that time, Philips and the Catharina Hospital have supported Ad in documenting his journey (for example, through his cardiologist’s parallel Twitter feed @CardioloogLukas), as part of a joint initiative to show how rewarding healthcare innovation can be. So how is Ad doing now and how much did the operation ultimately improve his life? To find out, we asked him the questions.
It is now over a year since you had the intervention. How have you been recently?
After the intervention I straight away felt a hundred times better. In the end I needed two treatments, which is typically the case for a third of patients. By June, my atrial fibrillation had all but disappeared. The only remaining symptom is an irregular heartbeat that occasionally plays up because my body has become more susceptible to it, but it can easily be kept under control, so for around 98 percent of the time I feel fine.
After your operation, your greatest wish was to go on long walks through the woods with your dogs again. Have you managed to do that?
Thankfully I have! Before my operations I hardly dared walk round the block with the dog, because I was afraid that my heart would skip a beat. Now I spend a lot of time in the woods and I can walk for as long as I want. Not only that, I now jog four times a week with my wife or son and I’ve lost eight kilos. I feel I’m getting fitter and fitter and want to make sure that I stay fit. Occasionally I have to rein myself in, because I’m a bit of a fanatic. But it’s great when you see all the changes that have happened. We’ve bought a static caravan in Zeeland, where the children can have fun playing near the water, and I horse around and play with them. A year ago I couldn’t have imagined doing that.
What did the intervention mean for you and your family?
We now have more pleasure together because I can do more. Recently I had a sprint with my son to see who would get home first. Little things like that are important to me because I know what it’s like when you’re not able to do them. Previously, my son virtually had to carry me home - I was just short of needing a walking frame. However, despite the fact that I can now run and move again, I am still very careful. For example, I never go running alone - I daren’t do that yet.
Do you think that fear will ever go away?
I don't know. It’s something that’s in your head. That doesn’t just apply to me - my wife also has trouble with it. I puff, pant and sweat quite a bit while I’m running and then I can feel her concerned look burning into my back. But I always puffed, panted and sweated during physical exertion, even before my atrial fibrillation. However, it’s always hanging around in the back of your mind.
Do you find that fear difficult to cope with or have your accepted that it’s just part of your new situation?
It’s just how things are. You simply don’t regard things as being as self-evident as before. But perhaps it will diminish over time and in five years maybe I won’t think about it at all. For example, I recently clean forgot that I had an appointment with my cardiologist, only realizing it a couple of days later when I came across the appointment form. So that shows how well I’m doing. I feel like I used to, and I’ve got my life back. Unconsciously, though, I sometimes dwell on it.
What are your ambitions or wishes for the future now you’re fit and healthy again?
I don’t have any major wishes or ambitions. Just being able to live is quite a lot when you couldn’t do anything before. Staying healthy, being able to take walks and exercise in the woods, and having fun with my family are the things that make me happy. Just like my work on the truck, which I’ve been able to resume. Now that I can do all those things again, I’m a contented person.
In conclusion, if I said ‘catheter ablation’, what would you say to me?
Don’t hesitate to consider it! Don’t put up with the symptoms for too long - that doesn’t get you anywhere. I’ve always impressed this upon my followers on Twitter. My electrician has the same symptoms that I had, and he can now be treated in a relatively straightforward way. I’m certain that this treatment can give people with atrial fibrillation their lives back. I am living proof of that.