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Ablation procedure recharges Tomahawk woman

​​​​​​​​​Margaret Hayes, 69, is vibrant, fit, snowmobiles in winter, and in summer, Jet Skis on Lake Nok​omis where she and her husband moved in 2006.

Marge Hayes, Tomahawk Marge Hayes, Tomahawk

She came up through the ranks of a large manufacturing company, D & K Group, retiring as vice president of sales and marketing. "All my working life, I was a hard-driving, type A personality. I didn't pay attention to minor aches or pains." She took care of herself.

Her husband of 48 years, John, had heart disease and died of renal failure in November 2010. After his death, Marge Hayes was tired all the time. She presumed grief over the loss caused her fatigue.

Exactly six months after his death, Hayes was about to take her dog to the veterinarian when "it was like Niagara Falls over my face. Everything was blurry, and I couldn't shake it off." She asked a neighbor to drive her to the nearest hospital, Ministry Saint Mary's in Tomahawk.

She was airlifted to Marshfield. She was having a stroke.

Hayes had heart palpitations for years. Sometimes it felt like a rope tightened around her chest. Palpitations became more common throughout the day and woke her at night. A heartbeat of 150-160 beats per minute had been normal for her.

She was diagnosed with chronic atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, a common disorder of the heart rate or rhythm. Electrical signals in the heart's upper chambers (atria) cause the atria to beat quickly and sometimes irregularly. It may result in shortness of breath and low energy. It also increases the chance of having a stroke.

Atrial fibrillation can be intermittent or chronic. "People can have intermittent fibrillation for many years and never progress. Some progress rapidly to chronic A-fib," said Marshfield Clinic Cardiologist John Hayes, M.D.​, who coincidentally shares her name. A-fib becomes more common with age, and other health conditions can make it worse.

Marge Hayes was placed on medications to control her heart rhythm. She told her cardiologist: "I had 48 years with my first John Hayes. I'm only looking for 25 years from you."

About a year later, on December 1, 2011, Hayes suffered a seizure, affecting her entire body. Fortunately, she was with a daughter in Illinois.

Being from Chicago, Hayes and her family initially thought she should get care in a bigger city. Her daughters had extensively researched heart disease when their father was ill and learned about an ablation treatment. "My daughter said, 'we're not cutting edge. Go to Marshfield.'"

In January 2012, Dr. Hayes performed cryoablation, a minimally invasive technique that freezes abnormal heart tissue to restore normal rhythm.

A catheter, or flexible tube, is threaded through a vein to the heart. Extremely cold liquid flows into a tiny balloon on the end of catheter. Freezing destroys the abnormal heart tissue inside a pulmonary vein that caused Hayes' fibrillation.

Cryoablation is safer, easier, more effective and takes less time than another procedure, Dr. Hayes said. Radiofrequency ablation uses heat to create barriers to the erratic electrical impulses, and is a good option for some.

Almost immediately, Hayes felt better. "I felt like getting up and taking a walk," she said. "The change was so dramatic that I don't think people realize how bad it is."

Hayes is back to walking her cockapoo, Mandy, two to four miles a day and enjoys seasonal activities. "I'm doing everything I want to do," she said.

"I'm about the biggest cheerleader there is for Marshfield Clinic."