Ernest Weltner



Ernest Weltner, 65, is enjoying a normal heart rhythm for the first time in nearly six years.

A new procedure being performed to treat atrial fibrillation at TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center in Nashville, Tenn., finally corrected his persistent condition.

“It had been hard to remember how I used to feel (before I had atrial fibrillation),” he said. “This is great.”

Weltner had tried multiple treatment options to correct his AFIB. He tried medication regimens. He had two ablation procedures and three cardioversion procedures over a period of five years. None of it worked to return Weltner’s heart to a normal rhythm for longer than two weeks. Frequently the abnormal heart rhythm would return in just one day.

Weltner’s cardiologist in Knoxville, Tenn., heard about a new hybrid procedure to treat AFIB called ‘nContact’ being performed by a team of heart specialists at TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center. He referred Weltner to meet with cardiac electrophysiologist Gregory Bashian, M.D., one of the specialists performing the procedure.

That was great news to Weltner and his family. He was willing to try anything that would correct his AFIB and let him enjoy life again.

“After meeting with Mr. Weltner and learning about his chronic AFIB condition, I consulted with my colleague cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Seenu Reddy to discuss the case,” said Bashian. “We believed we could return his heart to a normal sinus rhythm by performing the nContact hybrid ablation procedure.”

On Sept. 12, 2012, Weltner drove back to Nashville for his hybrid surgery. The procedure was a success.

“The day after my procedure, I could see my heart in rhythm on the monitor where I was recovering in the hospital,” recalls Weltner. “Six days later, I was going back home to Knoxville.”

An electrocardiogram two weeks after the procedure showed his heart was still beating in perfect rhythm. Additional follow-up appointments have confirmed that his heart is staying in rhythm. Down the road, Weltner may even be able to come off medicine for his heart all together.

Right now, he is enjoying getting back to the life he used to live.

“I feel a lot better and I can get back to what I enjoy doing, like fishing, mowing the lawn, and playing with my grand kids,” said Weltner. “I already scheduled a fishing trip.”

Shirley Weltner agrees.

“AFIB impacts all parts of someone’s life,” she said, reflecting on how the condition impacted her husband’s life. “I haven’t seen Ernest cheerful in a long time. This surgery is life-changing.”

The new nContact hybrid ablation procedure

NContact is a new hybrid procedure for treating atrial fibrillation using surgical and minimally invasive therapies.

“The new nContact procedure combines the best techniques of electrophysiology and cardiovascular surgery to treat atrial fibrillation, or ‘AFIB’,” said Seenu Reddy, M.D., cardiovascular surgeon, TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center. “This minimally invasive procedure allows us to combine dual modalities for treating AFIB into one single procedure, rather than the patient having to undergo two separate procedures like they potentially had to previously.”

Most patients with atrial fibrillation can benefit from medication and ablation procedures to restore normal heart rhythm. For patients still experiencing atrial fibrillation after an ablation or who have a more persistent version of the disease, the nContact procedure is a new alternative treatment.

“Before nContact was available, AFIB patients who needed additional treatment beyond an ablation had to go through multiple procedures, taking a toll on their bodies and requiring a lot of their time for additional appointments and then recovery,” said Gregory Bashian, M.D., cardiac electrophysiologist, TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center. “Now we are able to offer AFIB patients an alternative that will return their heart to a regular rhythm in one overall procedure and even reduce their recovery time.”

To perform the nContact procedure, a cardiac electrophysiologist and cardiac surgeon work together in TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center’s state-of-the-art, hybrid-enabled electrophysiology lab. The surgical procedure is performed first, followed by the ablation of the remaining areas of the left atrium. It takes about three hours to complete the entire procedure.

This alternative treatment offers numerous benefits to the patient, including comprehensive assessment and diagnosis, increased safety, and precision. Carefully selected patients enjoy greater quality outcomes and experience a shorter, less painful recovery.

“Initial patient feedback and outcomes have been very positive,” said Bashian. “This alternative hybrid procedure is a great option to have available for our patients.”

About AFIB

Atrial fibrillation, commonly referred to as AFIB, is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm treated by physicians. A less-known heart condition to most, it has serious implications for the patient including increased risk of stroke and heart failure.

“When an arrhythmia like AFIB occurs, the electrical activity of the patient’s heart becomes disorganized,” explains Gregory Bashian, M.D., cardiac electrophysiologist at TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center in Nashville, Tenn. “AFIB can severely impact a patient’s daily routine and, over time, cause damage to the heart.”

As the Baby Boomer Generation is aging, AFIB is among the heart conditions that cardiologists like Bashian are concerned about negatively impacting mature adult health. He has seen an increase in the number of diagnosed cases of AFIB in Nashville and Middle Tennessee in his patients over recent years. Many more cases are thought to go undiagnosed because people aren’t aware of the condition and the serious health consequences.

“Today, about 3 million people have been diagnosed with AFIB. We anticipate that number to continue rising over the next decade,” he said. “The good news is that treatments for AFIB are rapidly advancing. Anyone who believes they may be experiencing symptoms of AFIB should schedule an appointment with their physician or cardiologist.”

Symptoms related to AFIB vary from mild to severe, while some people may not notice any symptoms. Common symptoms include an irregular or rapid heartbeat, a racing feeling in the chest, a pounding feeling in the chest, pain or pressure in the chest, dizziness or lightheadedness, sweating, extreme fatigue or weakness, shortness of breath, and exercise intolerance.

Risk factors include age, a family history of atrial fibrillation, cardiovascular or lung diseases, and chronic health conditions. Certain lifestyle factors including stress, stimulant drugs like caffeine, smoking, and alcohol abuse also increase the risk of developing AFIB.

“Heart patients suffering from atrial fibrillation have more treatment options than ever with a goal of regaining a regular heart rhythm and improving long-term outcomes,” said Bashian. “The most important thing is not to ignore the symptoms and to visit your doctor right away. The sooner you receive treatment, the greater your chances of regaining a regular heart rhythm.”

Most patients with atrial fibrillation can benefit from a combination of medications, lifestyle changes, and ablation procedures to restore normal heart rhythm. For patients still experiencing AFIB after an ablation or who have structural heart disease, a new procedure called an nContact hybrid ablation is an alternative treatment option now available at TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center.

For more information on AFIB treatment options and other cardiovascular services at TriStar Centennial Heart & Vascular Center, visit and select TriStar Centennial Medical Center or call TriStar MedLine® at 615-342-1919.