Roseann Vitassa is a retired international art dealer living with severe atrial fibrillation, or AFib. It means she has an irregular heartbeat that could lead to a blood clot, stroke and even heart failure.
Vitassa’s heart journey started when she went to a hospital in New Port Richey and ended up in the intensive care unit after an AFib attack that left her unable to move. She was in and out of the hospital seven times over the next few years due to AFib attacks. Vitassa’s heart was cardioverted — shocked into a normal rhythm — more than 20 times. Her condition was completely debilitating.
“I lived with a fear of sudden death,” said Vitassa.
Vitassa, a mother of two, was given blood thinners in an attempt to treat her irregular heartbeat. The medication caused gastric bleeding, which resulted in another procedure. Next, doctors in Tampa attempted a procedure to prevent blood clots from passing through her heart before realizing its upper chamber was too shallow to insert the device.
After a multitude of procedures and medications, Vitassa had her first glimmer of hope when she was referred to UF Health Chief of Cardiovascular Surgery Thomas Beaver, MD, for a unique procedure called Hybrid Maze. Available at only a handful of U.S. medical centers, the procedure uses radio frequency waves (modified electrical energy) to create precise scar lines on the heart’s surface. These scars redirect the erratic electrical impulses of A-Fib to a normal electrical path through the heart. Vitassa says her UF Health doctors spent hours explaining the procedure and how it would help.
Vitassa’s Hybrid Maze surgery successfully treated her arrhythmia. Since the treatment at UF Health, her heart has been out of AFib. The artist underwent a second procedure a few months later to clean up the loose ends from previous attempts to treat her condition. That included a clamp in the heart’s upper chamber, which allowed Vitassa to quit blood thinners forever while still reducing the risk of a stroke.
“I wasn’t living before the Maze procedure, I was existing,” Vitassa said. “And now I feel better than I ever did.”
Prior to her AFib symptoms, Vitassa loved to travel and would frequently make international trips to sustain her business creating and selling beaded artwork. The onset of her heart condition forced the 76-year-old to stop doing what enjoyed. Thanks to UF Health and Dr. Beaver, Vitassa was able to go on her bucket list trip to the Galapagos Islands.