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Published July 20, 2011, 12:00 AM

James Ferragut of Fargo first in state to have heart procedure

FARGO – It takes heart and determination to run 26 miles, and while 60-year-old James Ferragut had the will to push himself, his heart had other ideas.

By: Danielle Cintron, INFORUM

FARGO – It takes heart and determination to run 26 miles, and while 60-year-old James Ferragut had the will to push himself, his heart had other ideas.

Ferragut, of Fargo, has suffered from atrial fibrillation for the past eight years. The condition causes an irregular heartbeat, which can result in shortness of breath, exhaustion, pain and an inability to be physically active.

“I’m kind of a risk taker,” he said. “I started running three years ago. My daughters and I decided to do something crazy for Christmas, and we chose to do half-marathons.”

But his heart caused too many problems to do any physical exertion comfortably.

That’s when he decided to take action and sought the help of Dr. Christopher Pierce, an electrophysiologist and cardiologist at Sanford Heart in Fargo.

Ferragut became the first patient in North Dakota to undergo a new type of heart ablation surgery to get his heart back on rhythm.

Pierce was the first doctor in North Dakota to perform heart ablation surgery, and now he has become the first to use a new procedure that helps to correct an irregular heartbeat.

There are two types of procedures in heart ablation surgery to correct rhythm problems: one involves burning the irregular tissues in the heart; the other, and newest, uses a freezing method.

Pierce, who has been studying and performing this procedure for 11 years, uses a combination of the two methods.

“The benefit of the freezing is that I don’t have to keep as close of an eye on the temperature,” Pierce said. “The freezing technology should eventually speed up procedure time.”

He said he has performed quite a few of these out-patient and noninvasive surgeries.

“It’s been picking up momentum,” Pierce said. “There is a 70 percent success rate, meaning he (Ferragut) shouldn’t have to take medication or have a second procedure. As good as he looks now, that’s how he looked after the procedure.”

It’s been a week since Ferragut had his heartbeat corrected.

“I thought I’d feel like Mike Tyson’s punching bag,” he said. “I feel more energetic. My heart’s feeling stronger, and I feel great.”

Ferragut was 57 when he started doing marathons, but he wasn’t much of a runner before that.

Pierce gave Ferragut the go-ahead to begin running when he is ready. Ferragut said he’d wait for the temperatures to cool off first.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Danielle Cintron at (701) 235-7311


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