William Ayres, 88, may be retired but he's far from being sidelined from his favorite activities. An active tennis player, golfer and skier, Ayres says he enjoys exploring new active pursuits.
"I'm a try-athlete. I'll try anything once," he says.
But about 25 years ago, a heart problem cropped up that threatened to put an end to his active lifestyle. Ayres began experiencing irregular heartbeats and was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other complications.
Ayres' atrial fibrillation would flare up during tennis, forcing him to cut his matches short. He even experienced episodes at night that would wake him from a deep sleep. His doctor prescribed beta-blockers to help slow his heart rate, but Ayres continued to have episodes.
Several years later on a trip to Southern California, Ayres and his wife happened upon an atrial fibrillation conference that was taking place at their hotel. Still in search of a better treatment option to control his irregular heartbeat, Ayres and his wife sat quietly in the back of the room and listened with interest. The couple had recently moved to Sacramento and didn't know of any cardiologists in the area. As luck would have it, Ayres talked with a doctor at the conference who recommended he make an appointment with an electrophysiologist.
Ayres saw an electrophysiologist, who changed his medication and recommended that he undergo a catheter ablation, a procedure that destroys the heart tissue causing the abnormal electrical activity. After the procedure, Ayres experienced immediate relief from the atrial fibrillation, but about a year later the episodes returned.
A short time later, Ayres discovered James Longoria, M.D., a cardiovascular surgeon with Sutter Heart & Vascular Institute. He attended a talk Dr. Longoria gave about a new minimally invasive procedure to treat atrial fibrillation called the Totally Thorascopic Maze (TT Maze) Procedure. The procedure is ideal for patients whose atrial fibrillation is not controlled by other treatments. Intrigued by what he learned about the procedure, Ayres made an appointment with Dr. Longoria right away.
"I was very impressed with Dr. Longoria right off the bat," Ayres says. "He was very thorough in describing the procedure and the results I could expect. He was a very friendly, nice guy."
In January 2010, Ayres underwent the TT Maze Procedure at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento. Through four small incisions in Ayres' chest, Dr. Longoria used special instruments to create scars on the heart in order to block and redirect the abnormal electrical impulses causing the atrial fibrillation.
Two days after the surgery, Ayres went home from the hospital and quickly returned to his normal routine and active lifestyle. "Dr. Longoria and his staff were incredible. I'd encourage anyone living with this condition to consult with him," Ayres says. "It's been five years since my TT Maze Procedure and I haven't had any episodes."
Ayres recently stopped by Dr. Longoria's office while he was running an errand for his wife. He wanted to say hello, but noticed the waiting room was very busy. Not wanting to interrupt Dr. Longoria, he left a note for the front desk staff to pass on to him. It said, "I'm 88-years-old, and I played tennis this morning, thanks to you."