Meidan Schwartzman, 41, from Yahud, has spent his entire life in sports and as far as he knew, he was a strong, healthy person with no medical issues.
Three years after he was discharged from intensive military service he decided to enroll in a gym, and was required to perform a battery of extensive routine tests. The result of his EKG test, which examines the activity of the heart, was extremely irregular. In that one moment his life changed.
"It caught me right in the midst of everything," Meidan related. "I had completed combat service, during which I periodically underwent all the necessary tests and everything was always fine. But that day, during the EKG test, the nurse started asking me anxiously if I was feeling okay. I didn't understand what she was talking about. I started to reply that I was feeling fine, when suddenly she summoned the doctor and told him that something was wrong. Within minutes I was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
"From that moment on, my life turned upside-down. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. I arrived at a hospital in the center of the country with significant arrhythmias and that was where the journey of my life began.
"I underwent extensive tests and was told that since I was still young, the abnormal condition would pass. I was given several types of pills to stabilize my heart rate and sent home."
Meidan's condition did not resolve, however. In fact, things took a turn for the worse.
"After a few months I began to feel very unwell. I suffered from shortness of breath, rapid pulse, and dizziness. The pills no longer helped. The doctors decided to implant a device that would regularly monitor my heart rate. They noticed an arrhythmia and I was told that I had to undergo a cardiac ablation - a procedure that scars heart tissue in your heart to block irregular electrical signals."
It was yet another temporary solution.
"After two years, I once again began to pass out and lose consciousness," Meidan continued. "I was sent to a different hospital in the center of the country where I was told that what I was feeling was all in my head. But I couldn't accept the diagnosis; I just knew something was wrong and I was desperate to figure out what was happening to me.
"I went from doctor to doctor in several different cities, underwent more tests, and when I returned to my original doctor he was shocked and informed me that I urgently needed a pacemaker – and I was only 33 years old!
The doctor was wrong, however. "The pacemaker didn't solve the problem, so I went to another hospital in central Israel for a second opinion. There I again had a catheterization, again they saw arrhythmias and unequivocally told me that there was no choice, I had to undergo an AV node ablation, which basically meant that my heart would be supported by pacemaker only, for life. I had no choice but to agree because I didn't see another option."
It was then that the miracle occurred. "Just before the procedure that would have completely changed my life, I read a Facebook post, written by Dr. Itzik Biton, a senior cardiologist at Hadassah's Heart Institute, in which he talked about cardiac arrhythmias and the ways in which he deals with them. I thought to myself I had nothing to lose and wrote him a message describing my situation.
"To my surprise, Dr. Biton got back to me promptly. He asked me a few precise questions and then suggested I come to Hadassah in two days' time. There I met the man who saved my life, an amazing, humble man who just wanted to help."
"Meidan came to see me when he had no idea what to do," related Dr. Biton. "He was about to undergo a procedure that would have altered his entire life. He suffered from an abnormal arrhythmia in the heart. They had implanted a pacemaker to serve as a backup if the heart rate was too slow; he was taking high doses of three medications to control the abnormal rate disorder he had; and now he was about to have an ablation of the AV Node – which means burning the heart's natural transmission system and being dependent on the pacemaker alone. This is very difficult news for such a young man, with many serious consequences that would have changed the whole nature of his life."
Why was all this happening?
"The fundamental issue was that no one, in any of the hospitals he visited, was able to accurately map where the arrhythmia he suffered came from, which meant that none of the procedures helped.
"So we had to think outside the box," Dr. Biton continued. "At Hadassah Medical Center, we are in the middle of conducting a very advanced experimental study, in which we use an artificial intelligence algorithm whose function is to analyze the patient's tests and precisely lead us to the source of the patients' arrhythmias. We knew that Meidan's case was exactly the case for which this system was designed.
"We input Meidan's various test results, from different periods, into the system, analyzed the data and found that the source of the problem came from the sinus area of the heart and not from the left atrium, as had been thought in all the other hospitals.
"We faced a challenge. We didn't want to burn the entire area, even though it's the usual procedure that hospitals perform - but it's a procedure that has grave consequences. We really preferred to go deeper and reach the exact location of the problem," Dr. Biton stressed.
"From here the road was short. Meidan was given a drug that increases the pulse rate and can exactly map the problematic area inside the sinus. Meidan underwent the procedure and with the help of the drug we were able to map the sinus area and focus solely on the 'problematic' areas, preserving the body's natural transmission system and more importantly - he no longer needed a pacemaker. His arrhythmias were completely over and we stopped all his medications. Meidan returned to life."
"Dr. Biton saved me," Meidan summarized. "I didn't have a life before he healed me. I had been a strong, athletic man and I had reached the point where I couldn't work, couldn't live a normal life. Worse still was the fear that something terrible could happen at any minute.
"Now I've resumed training and gone back to work. I'm not afraid anymore! I play and run with my children and every day I celebrate the fact that my life was saved."
Dr Biton added: "I always say: Don't give up. Don't rush into extreme procedures that can affect your life in the future. About 30% of the population suffers from cardiac arrhythmias. Many people have had their daily lives upturned because of this issue, which is why I urge everyone not to give up. We've made a lot of technological progress and today, there are many options for treatment. Some people live with arrhythmias for many years, in the belief that they are fated to do so, but I am happy to tell them that this is simply not the case. We can help them."