On the Thursday evening before Good Friday in 2023, Glen Virden had a strange feeling in his chest that didn’t feel like a traditional heart attack symptom. He wasn’t sure what was wrong, but he knew something wasn’t right. So, he used a KardiaMobile EKG device to check his heart rhythm. He was in atrial fibrillation (AFib) – an irregular heartbeat that is associated with an increased risk of stroke – and his pulse was racing at 137 beats per minute.
Glen thought about what he should do, then did exactly what he now says he shouldn’t have: He went to bed, thinking his heart rhythm would convert to a regular sinus rhythm overnight and everything would be fine the next morning. When he woke up Friday morning, it wasn’t.
He used the KardiaMobile device again and was still in AFib with a pulse rate of 137 beats per minute.
First episode of AFib
Glen first learned he had episodes of AFib in 2021, when he had a preoperative workup before a hernia repair procedure. The EKG that was part of the workup showed he was in AFib. At a follow-up appointment, an EKG showed a normal sinus rhythm.
After this experience, Glen visited his health system primary care physician in Great Bend, Jonathan Pike, MD. Dr. Pike recommended that Glen see Rigoberto Ramirez, MD, a cardiologist and electrophysiologist with The University of Kansas Health System. Although Dr. Ramirez is primarily based in Kansas City, he travels to Great Bend regularly to see patients.
A few months later, when Glen had his first appointment with Dr. Ramirez, Glen says their personalities immediately clicked. In fact, they had several experiences in common, including wrestling when they were in high school.
“Coming in and getting to know a new doctor, there was no awkwardness,” Glen says. “In fact, Dr. Ramirez doesn’t just treat you like a patient or even a friend – he treats you like part of the family.”
Dr. Ramirez saw Glen several times over the next year, monitoring his AFib as they worked through lifestyle modifications and different medications. They hoped these interventions would manage the AFib. Because Glen was not always symptomatic during episodes of atrial fibrillation, Dr. Ramirez recommended that Glen use a KardiaMobile device to monitor his AFib. He asked Glen to check his heart rhythm using the device if he ever felt something was off.
Easter weekend in the hospital
That Thursday before Easter 2023 was a particularly bad episode of AFib and one of the first that was symptomatic for Glen. When he recognized the severity of the episode of AFib on that Good Friday morning, he immediately called and scheduled an appointment to see Dr. Pike the same day. This happened to be a day that Dr. Ramirez was in Great Bend.
Dr. Ramirez and Dr. Pike evaluated Glen’s condition and decided the best option was to monitor his AFib in the hospital. He was admitted to Great Bend Campus where they put him on a diltiazem IV drip to slow his heart rate. By Sunday evening, Glen was feeling much better. His heart had converted back to sinus rhythm, and he was released to go home.
During a follow-up visit shortly after Glen’s hospitalization, Dr. Ramirez and Glen discussed more definitive treatments for his AFib, now that he was experiencing more symptomatic episodes. They discussed the chronic and progressive nature of AFib, the unpredictability of the arrhythmia and its effects on quality of life.
Dr. Ramirez recommended Glen have a heart ablation – a minimally invasive procedure that targets the main triggers within the heart that cause AFib. Using heat energy, these triggers are eliminated and in return, the heart has a better chance of maintaining normal rhythm, sometimes without medications.
“Glen was motivated, eager to learn more about AFib and immediately took the necessary steps to try to manage his atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Ramirez says. “The more we discussed this condition, the less scary it became and when the time came to consider an ablation procedure, Glen was ready.”
Glen agreed, but an ablation is a procedure that he would need to undergo at the Center for Advanced Heart Care in Kansas City. So, in August 2023, Glen and his wife, Lisa, traveled to the Center for Advanced Heart Care at the health system’s campus in Kansas City, Kansas.
“The staff there was amazing and explained absolutely everything that was going to happen during the procedure,” Glen says. “I spoke to every person who came to my room and to everyone in the operating room and every single one of them was interested in me personally. I felt again that these people truly cared about me as a person.”
The procedure, which took between 4 and 5 hours, was a success and after an overnight stay, Glen was headed back home to Great Bend.
Monitoring Glen’s heart rhythm
Following the ablation, Glen had a follow-up appointment with Katie Christensen, an advanced practice provider working on Dr. Ramirez’s team at St. Rose Medical Pavilion, in October, where he learned about a small device called a LINQ cardiac implantable loop recorder. Katie discussed the benefits of the LINQ monitor and its ability to monitor Glen’s heart rhythms remotely.
“She explained the whole process, showed me a model of the monitor and described how it would work with the team in Kansas City monitoring it,” Glen says.
November 4, Dr. Ramirez was back in Great Bend and performed the procedure to implant the device in Glen’s chest.
“The whole thing didn’t take long, maybe 15 minutes, and I was awake through it,” Glen says. “This is the level of care you don’t often see out here in the rural areas of the state.”
“One of the most enjoyable parts of traveling to Great Bend is the ability to expand cardiology services to the area,” says Dr. Ramirez. “Being able to provide Glen with peace of mind by offering the LINQ device made a lot of sense. It’s not for every condition, but for patients with AFib, syncope or other arrhythmias that need remote monitoring, it can be an invaluable tool.”
Now, Glen’s heart rhythm is monitored by the electrophysiology team in Kansas City – and by Glen through the app on his phone, which connects to the LINQ device by Bluetooth. He takes comfort in knowing that people are watching out for him.
“But,” he says, “if something doesn’t feel right, get it checked out. Earlier identification leads to earlier treatment and that leads to a longer life. Don’t be afraid of these procedures; there’s absolutely no pain.”
“A diagnosis of AFib can cause some anxiety, but the more you understand about it, the more manageable it becomes,” says Dr. Ramirez. “Don’t be afraid to face it head on – we are here to help.”