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Making the Rounds with Dr. Aaron Hesselson

Meet Dr. Aaron Hesselson: engineering healthier heartbeats

Making the RoundsWe caught up with Dr. Aaron Hesselson for our latest Making the Rounds interview. Dr. Hesselson started at UK HealthCare this fall, bringing with him nearly 30 years of experience in cardiac electrophysiology. He now serves as the director of electrophysiologic services at UK. 

What types of conditions do you treat?

Electrophysiology covers all of the electrical aspects of the heart. That means I treat patients with abnormal heart rhythms. These can vary from slow heart rhythms to very rapid heart rhythms. Treatments for these conditions can range from simple monitoring and reassurance to medication and sometimes surgical procedures that can help manage or cure a certain problem.

How did your career in medicine begin?

I left college as a biomedical engineer and I was very interested in maintaining my medical background for my first job. I came across a job listing in the local newspaper that asked for a biomedical engineer to do research at a hospital in Newark, N.J.

So, rather than just sending my resume in, I decided I would show up in person. I just said, “Hey, I just happened to be in the area and I’m interested in this.” I had an initial interview and then a few more interviews, and then I got the job.

What’s the best part about being a doctor?

As an engineer, the technical aspects of the job are very appealing. But more important is the gratification we get from taking care of our patients.

Very few doctors can say that they can cure a medical issue, but in some cases we are able to do that as cardiac electrophysiologists. And that, to me, is very big. To see the appreciation of the family, patient – that makes it all worth it.

Is there an experience that has shaped your patient-care philosophy?

Yes – being a heart patient myself. When I was in college, even before I had any inkling that I wanted to go into medicine, I ended up in an intensive care unit with a fractured sternum and a bruised heart.

My experience then as a patient very much influences how I approach my patients now. I approach it from the standpoint that I’m that patient lying in the bed. The patient doesn’t know what’s going on or know the technology. They don’t know the technical terms and they don’t know what that end point is: When is my time here in the hospital going to end?

I try to anticipate what they’re thinking lying in bed because I was there. Hopefully I can anticipate their needs and their questions and make them that much more comfortable and reassured so that they know, “OK, we’ve got a plan and I feel good about it.”


Watch our video interview with Dr. Hesselson, where he explains why patients should feel confident coming to him for their care.


Next steps:

  • The UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute is a leader in diagnosing and treating abnormal heart rhythms. Learn more about Gill’s Heart Rhythm Program.
  • A new study about heart stents is in the news. Two of our experts explain what the study means and what patients and their loved ones should know.
What African-Americans should know about their hearts

What African-Americans should know about their hearts

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all Americans, but the threat of heart-related complications is most severe for African-Americans.

Dr. Ted Wright

Dr. Ted Wright

Data from the American Heart Association shows that African-Americans are at a higher risk for heart disease than white Americans and the prevalence of high blood pressure in black Americans is among the highest in the world. Because African-Americans are disproportionately affected by heart disease, it’s important to understand why that’s the case and what can be done to promote a healthy heart.

To celebrate Black History Month and American Heart Month, we spoke with Dr. Ted Wright, a heart surgeon at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute who specializes in heart rhythm disorders, to find out more about how heart disease impacts African-American adults and what you can do to improve your heart health.

Why are African-Americans more susceptible to heart disease than other groups?

Wright: The primary reason is that hypertension, or high blood pressure, is much higher in the African-American community. About two out of every five African-American adults have high blood pressure, and fewer than half have it under control.

What other factors contribute to higher rates of heart disease in the African-American community?

Wright: Other factors include obesity and diabetes. The prevalence of obesity and inactivity tend to be a bit higher in the African-American community, and there’s some research indicating that African-Americans metabolize salt in a way that may contribute to high blood pressure.

What are preventive measures a person can take to improve their heart health?

Wright: Lifestyle changes can have a huge impact on getting your risk factors under control. Here’s what I recommend: Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, don’t smoke or quit smoking right away, limit your alcohol consumption, and know your family history. If others in your family have had heart disease, you might be more at risk for it yourself.

What else should people be doing to manage their risk factors?

Wright: In addition to lifestyle changes, be informed and know your numbers: blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight. Work with your health care provider to manage these numbers through lifestyle changes and medications.

Dr. Wright is a heart surgeon at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute. He is UK’s leading expert in AFib treatment and is the only doctor in the region performing the Mini-MAZE procedure.


Next steps:

  • Want to improve your heart health? Understanding just a few numbers, like your blood pressure and cholesterol, can tell you a whole lot about your overall health.
  • Twin brothers Jon Wes and Gardner Adams were diagnosed with a rare heart rhythm disorder called Brugada syndrome. After being treated successfully at Gill, the brothers are helping researchers at UK understand inherited heart disorders.
Gardner and Jon Wes Adams

Gill Heart Institute saves 27-year-old identical twins

Jon Wes and Gardner Adams share a lot. Both have a profound love for baseball. Both are in phenomenal physical condition. And as identical twins, they share the same genetic profile.

The Adams twins, now 27, began playing baseball almost before they could read.  Both were offered scholarships to Asbury University. Gardner was drafted by the Braves. Their work ethic was a big factor in their success on the diamond, running 25-30 miles a week, regardless of weather, each pushing the other to achieve.

It was that closeness — and their shared genes — that ultimately saved both their lives.

In June 2014, as Jon Wes was running in the Lexington Arboretum, his heart suddenly stopped beating.  He collapsed near a concert, and audience members performed CPR for almost 20 minutes until emergency crews arrived to transport him to UK HealthCare. Doctors there told his frantic family that Jon Wes had about a 30 percent chance of survival.

But Jon Wes is a fighter. After several days in a medically induced coma, he began to wake up. Now the real work fell to Gill Heart Institute cardiologists Dr. Samy-Claude Elayi and Dr. Alison Bailey, who needed to figure out why a physically fit 26-year old would have sudden cardiac death. And after some sleuthing, they had their answer: Brugada Syndrome.

According to Elayi, Brugada is a fairly rare diagnosis, affecting only about one in 1,000 people, typically of Asian descent. It can cause dangerous arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms, which in extreme cases can cause sudden cardiac death.

An implantable defibrillator — a tiny version of the paddles that doctors use to shock people back to life in medical television dramas — monitors arrhythmias and delivers a shock to the heart whenever one occurs. Jon Wes was implanted with an ICD in late June and was cleared to resume exercising shortly afterward.

In the meantime, Drs. Elayi and Bailey took note that Jon Wes had a twin — an identical twin. Gardner was put through the same paces.  While the ECG was inconclusive for Brugada, the genetic tests indicated he had Brugada as well. Gardner and his family agreed with the Gill team’s recommendation, and on Aug. 29, 2014 — six days after his 26th birthday — Gardner was implanted with an ICD.  His first words out of surgery: “Look Mom, we’re identical again.”

Fourteen months after Jon Wes collapsed, and almost exactly a year after Gardner received his ICD, a short run revealed just how sound that decision was.

Gardner and his wife, Mary Ann, went to a local park in Anderson County, where they now live, to get some exercise and fresh air.  Elayi had warned the twins never to run alone, so the plan was for Gardner to run one direction around the circle while Mary Ann walked in the opposite direction. Just four minutes in, however, Gardner knew something was very wrong.

“I was dizzy and short of breath,” Gardner said.  “The next thing I knew, I woke up face down on the pavement.”

Within a minute Mary Ann appeared on the path and immediately drove him to UK Chandler Hospital.  There they learned the incredible news: during Gardner’s run, his heart had stopped.  The ICD had shocked his heart back to life.

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