By Ally Morrison
Dr. Anil Rajendra says he has always been intrigued by the cardiovascular system.
He understood it intuitively when he was taking biology in school, he said, and his interest revived after he went to medical school.
Last month, the cardiologist broke new ground in the treatment of atrial fibrillation when he used the Octaray Mapping Catheter to perform ablation on a patient’s heart.
Atrial fibrillation, better known as AFib, is an irregular, often rapid heart rate originating in the heart’s top two chambers, causing poor blood flow. The new catheter gives doctors a more efficient and accurate read of electrical signals within the heart to better target the areas causing concern.
“It’s always exciting to use new technologies. The field of electrophysiology is a relatively young field. There is a lot of change, and we are still learning and improving,” he said. “One of the exciting things for me is being able to use these new technologies and see them working up close and personal.”
Focusing In on Medicine
Rajendra’s interest in medicine began early, but the journey to his eventual career was not a straight path.
“I was always interested in medicine growing up. In high school, I volunteered at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis in addition to other hospitals during the summertime, doing odd jobs,” he said. “During my sophomore year of college, I planned to major in economics and go into business to work on Wall Street or in a financial arena.
“Toward the end of my junior year, I decided I did enjoy business and finance but wondered if I would enjoy that 10 years down the line,” he said. “So, I refocused on medicine.”
After attending the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa. for his undergraduate studies, he furthered his education in medical school at The University of Tennessee, which reaffirmed his interest in cardiology.
Rajendra went on to complete his internal medicine, cardiology and electrophysiology training at the Medical University of South Carolina. After completing training in 2015, Rajendra moved to Birmingham and joined the Alabama Cardiovascular Group.
Specializing in electrophysiology and arrhythmia, Rajendra deals mostly with AFib patients. Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of arrhythmias.
“AFib is a very unorganized, chaotic rhythm in the top chambers of the atrium,” Rajendra said. “Fortunately, it is not as dangerous as a fatal rhythm, but it does increase the risk for stroke and heart failure.”
Rajendra estimates there are approximately 8 to 9 million people in the United States diagnosed with AFIB, and by 2030 that number is expected to rise to 15 million.
“Treatments can range from medicinal to procedural,” Rajendra said. “Medicine wise, there are anti-arrhythmic drugs which are designed to keep patients in a normal rhythm. Procedures for AFib require what we call an ablation. It is a minimally invasive procedure with catheters that are inserted into veins to eventually reach the heart. We can then target the areas AFib typically comes from and keep patients from having further episodes.”
It was on Jan. 13 that Rajendra and his team performed a procedure using the new Octaray Mapping Catheter. Grandview Medical Center posted to LinkedIn to congratulate Rajendra and his colleagues, for being the first hospital in the Southeast, and the fourth hospital in the U.S. to use this new technology.
Rajendra explains that major headway has been made in the past five to 10 years in treating AFib with ablation, and that has a lot to do with new technologies.
“The Octaray catheter is a multi-electrode mapping catheter,” Rajendra said. “We use mapping systems in order to visualize the catheter we put into the heart. The Octaray was a big advancement for Biosense Webster, the manufacturer of the catheter, because the electrodes are smaller. The smaller the electrodes can be, the higher definition signals we get and the more precise we can be.”
More than 1,000 ablations per year are done at Grandview, and Biosense Webster contacted the hospital for an evaluation of the new Octaray catheter.
“We do have a good working relationship with Biosense Webster, and we do a lot of limited market releases to evaluate and give feedback on new technologies before they are released,” Rajendra said.
AFib can be diagnosed through an EKG or a monitor. People struggling with AFib typically have an elevated heart rate for extended periods of time. Rajendra stresses the importance of evaluations.
Rajendra said Alabama Cardiovascular Group started an AFib clinic shortly after the practice joined Grandview in 2015.
“One main thing we focus on is patient education. We want patients to be aware of what they are dealing with, how it will affect their future and the lifestyle modifications they may need to make,” he said. “We try to make it a very available clinic for patients to learn, as well as emphasize how we can help. It’s important to be evaluated if you have symptoms.”