Dr. Zhen Jiao has his heart is in the right place. According to his partner and mentor, Dr. James McKinnie, Dr. Jiao is critical — and a definite blessing — to the collaborative unit that is East Jefferson’s Electrophysiology and Cardiology team. He pours all his energy and know-how in to his work.
But part of Dr. Jiao’s heart is in China too. His mother, at the age of 82, is still working as a pathologist in Harbin, China. Someday, he can picture himself bringing healthcare to poor and rural areas of his home country.
For now, he is forging quite a cardiology career for himself right here in New Orleans. Dr. Jiao and Dr. McKinnie, along with cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Mike Brothers, make up the only team in the city to perform the hybrid convergent cardiac procedure. In fact, theirs is one of only 135 facilities performing the surgery in the entire United States.
The procedure is designed to treat Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib. AFib is an irregular heartbeat, usually rapid, in the upper chambers of the heart. It is a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system — the most common cardiac arrhythmia — and causes blood to stagnate and clot. The biggest concern is stroke risk. A third of all patients experience AFib before their stroke.
In the hybrid convergent procedure, Dr. Brothers cauterizes tissue at the back of the heart and Drs. Jiao and McKinnie thread flexible catheters to the problematic tissue and either freeze or burn it to interrupt the faulty areas responsible for the dysrhythmia.
“If I were to explain it to an 8th grader, I would say, ‘I place a balloon inside your heart and freeze it, stopping the irregular heartbeats,’” Dr. Jiao says. “This procedure is cutting-edge and so much less invasive. You don’t have to open the chest and there are fewer complications.”
Dr. Jiao says that East Jefferson’s commitment to technology is what has advanced their program to the heights it is reaching. In addition to the convergent procedure, Dr. Jiao and Dr. McKinnie perform cardiac ablations, and Dr. Jiao implants pacemakers, and defibrillator and reveal monitors, the smallest cardiac monitoring system in the world.
Why use the hybrid procedure? “Currently there is no FDA approved catheter ablation for persistent atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Jiao says. “These patients now have a choice to have a procedure and hopefully get good results, resulting in a better quality of life.”
Is AFib on the rise and why?
“Yes — the population is living longer,” Dr. Jiao says.
Other trends in the electrophysiology specialty: “Mapping systems,” Dr. Jiao says. “They are an extremely useful tool in the lab. (Cardiac mapping systems provide real-time visualization and navigation of the heart using 3D data via catheter cardiogram readings.)”
On teamwork: “I am grateful we have a dedicated team,” Dr. Jiao says. “I work side by side with a skilled surgeon, Dr. Michael Brothers as well as my partner who was my previous mentor, Dr. James McKinnie. I cannot exclude the office staff, hybrid lab and cath lab staff. We all work together for the patients.”
On achieving patient-centered care: “I focus on what bothers the patients the most,” Dr. Jiao says. “I explain in detail the risk and outcomes to each patient. You have to work with the patient, their family members and other doctors on the team to get the best care.”
Biggest medical challenge: “An obese patient with long-term, persistent atrial fibrillation ended up with a successful ablation,” Dr. Jiao says. “Ventricular tachycardia ablations can be very challenging and this rhythm can be life- threatening.”
Three wishes for healthcare: “That healthcare was more affordable for patients; that we could deliver high-quality care; and that we could see a decrease in overall expenses,” Dr. Jiao says.
Zhen Jiao, M.D., PhD
Jefferson Electrophysiology/East Jefferson Hospital
4224 Houma Blvd., Ste. 300
Metairie, LA 70006
Medical School: Harbin Medical University, Harbin, China
PhD: Cardiac Electrophysiology, Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China
Fellowships: Tulane University School of Medicine, Clinical Cardiology and the Mayo Clinic – Rochester, Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology
Board Certified: Internal Medicine and Cardiology/Electrophysiology