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Oklahoma football: OU's Nila Kasitati hasn't stopped after surgery

Nila Kasitati ignored the pain in his chest for years before eventually learning that he had a heart arrhythmia.
BY STEPHANIE KUZYDYM, Staff Writer, Published: September 26, 2012

— Nila Kasitati almost died because of his pride.

He tried to tell his eight brothers when he was a child that his chest hurt. They told him to stop being weak.

Go play football.

Years passed, and Kasitati dealt with the symptoms. He couldn't understand why the sharp pains would be there when he woke up, but not always after a hard workout. Then this summer, one of those workouts changed his way of thinking. He found out the shortness of breath, the dizziness, the way his whole body would move up and down with the pounding of his heart meant something was wrong.

The Oklahoma backup left guard learned he had a heart arrhythmia. Because of HIPAA laws, the doctor could not confirm the exact type of arrhythmia, but Kasitati did say he went to Dr. Warren “Sonny” Jackman, an Oklahoma doctor famous for the specific procedure he performed on Kasitati.

Jackman is an electrophysiologist, a cardiologist who operates on the electrical system of the heart, for the OU Medical Center. He came to Oklahoma more than 30 years ago when the field for his work was rare.

He pioneered Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation, which is a procedure that sends a current to an extremely specific area of the heart's conduction system. This current is supposed to destroy the site of origin of the arrhythmia. Jackman has treated professional athletes, actors and the Sultan of Brunei's son.

If an arrhythmia isn't stopped, the heart's ability to pump blood reduces, causing blood flow to diminish. Jackman said that can cause a person to be very tired.

“And if it's a marked reduction, at times, the brain may not receive enough blood flow and they can get dizzy or faint,” Jackman said.

Kasitati said he never passed out, although he did get lightheaded and dizzy. Sometimes, just standing up made him feel like he had run a mile.

If a heart's rhythm begins to go too fast, Jackman said it can produce sudden death.

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What is a heart arrhythmia, and what does the Radiofrequency Catheter Ablation do?

So what was happening inside Nila Kasitati's 6-4, 309-pound body?

Well, the normal pacemaker of his heart was firing too fast. The electric wave that spreads over a heart muscle, in a normal heart, begins in the sinus node. The normal rhythm is called a sinus rhythm.

That sinus node makes an electrical discharge that spreads throughout the heart. Dr. Warren “Sonny” Jackman said it's under the control of the brain so “when you're resting or sleeping, it tells the sinus node to slow down and when you're active or running or where you need to pump more blood, it signals to the sinus node to speed up.”

“What catheter ablation does is we put multiple catheters in the vein and thread them to the heart ...” Jackman said. “These catheters are tubes that have little metal rings on them that serve as an electrode, and we can actually record the electrical activation from these electrodes and we can start up the abnormal rhythm, the rapid rhythm.

“We can trigger it by pacing certain ways and start it up and then move the catheters around and record the electrical activation in different parts of the heart until we find the place that it's originating from — whether it's due to automaticity going too fast or whether there's a short circuit making re-entry.

“When we do (find that area) we can place the catheter against that spot and deliver electricity through the metal tip.”

Because heart muscles act like a resistor to that electricity, the muscle temporarily increases in temperature. That spot of the heart muscle then dies and is replaced with a scar “about the size of a pea.” The scar doesn't hurt or injure the heart. It does eliminate the area that is generating that rapid rhythm.


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