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L i v e Yo u n g e r L o n g e r

Outrunning A-Fib

Blendu was in her late 20s when her

heart began to race and skip beats. The

problem was atrial fibrillation (A-Fib),

which runs in her family and led to her

father’s fatal stroke, she says.

At first, her heart rate would correct itself.

But over time, it wasn’t able to anymore.

On several occasions, Blendu needed

a procedure that shocks the heart to

restore a normal rhythm.

Despite her A-Fib—and largely because

of it—Blendu took up fitness to keep her

heart in shape. “The choice I made was

to be as physically fit as I could,” she

says. In 2008, she entered her first Half

Ironman, a 70.3-mile swim-bike-run race.

“It’s a huge sense of accomplishment” to

compete, she says.

But her A-Fib—and moreover the

medicines needed to tame her wild heart

rate—made her feel like an underdog.

“It was like I didn’t have a fifth gear,” she

says. She’d tell herself, “If you can just

finish, that’s pretty good.”

Blendu tried to enjoy a normal life. And

she trained when she could. But at times

her symptoms and medication interfered

too much.

“There were periods when the beta-

blockers would slow my heart rate to

the point where I could not physically

exercise,” she says.

So she decided to take action. She had

An iron-willed

reclaims her

a conventional ablation procedure, which

destroys tissue inside the heart that may

be interfering with the electrical signals

that make the heart beat. But a month

later, her A-Fib returned.

A better solution

When her Boise cardiologist mentioned

the hybrid maze procedure, Blendu was

hopeful. “He did some research and

referred me to Dr. Dunnington, who was

fantastic to work with,” Blendu says.

That’s cardiothoracic surgeon Gan H.

Dunnington, MD. He’s among a small

number of U.S. doctors who perform the

hybrid maze procedure, which has up to

a 95 percent success rate, he says.

It’s called a “maze” because it involves

creating a maze-like pattern of scar lines

on the heart. The maze pattern gives the

electrical signals that make the heart beat

a single, clear path to follow. So they’re

less likely to get jumbled and trigger the

abnormal rhythm of A-Fib.

Jenni Blendu finished her

first marathon in the fall of

2014—a major triumph

for any athlete. But even

more remarkable, Blendu,

42, did it just a few months

after heart surgery.

It was one of many

determined steps Blendu

has taken in a journey

from Boise, Idaho, to the

Adventist Heart Institute in

Napa Valley—and across

new finish lines.