Robert Peacock is no celebrity, but his heart may be on its way to becoming one. He allowed St. Vincent's Medical Center in Jacksonville to tweet his heart procedure, with a hospital representative giving a snip-by-snip account of the procedure live on Twitter.
For the occasion, he insisted on star treatment. “My limo wasn't waiting for me like I asked,” Peacock, 61, quipped as he waited to be wheeled into the operating room. Peacock's procedure stands as the second in the Jacksonville area to be covered live on Twitter. Last November, St. Vincent's published real-time descriptions of a woman's double-breast mastectomy.
The subject of last Thursday’s updates was a catheter ablation to correct an irregular heartbeat. Guidelines issued by the American Heart Association recommend surgery only when medications have failed to control a patient's heart rhythm. About 10 percent of all people with atrial fibrillation are candidates for going under the knife, said Saumil Oza, the cardiac electrophysiologist who operated on Peacock.
In Peacock's case, medications helped a little, but he still felt lethargic. A gregarious boat salesman and weekend farmer, he looks forward to needing fewer medications, particularly the blood thinners. Although proponents believe that the $40,000 catheter procedure extends patients' lives and reduces their stroke risk, the jury is still out on its effectiveness, Oza acknowledged. A double-blind, randomized clinical trial, the gold standard in medicine, is being conducted now to determine just that.
St. Vincent's marketing people wanted to highlight the atrial fibrillation unit during February, which is designated as American Heart Month. So, they enlisted some of the hospital's doctors to help them find a patient with the stomach to have his heart featured on Twitter. “Why not? If it'll help somebody,” was Peacock's reply.
In a far corner of the operating room Thursday, a web producer and a cardiac expert with St. Vincent's huddled over a laptop. They chronicled the procedure largely from a script that Oza had signed off on a day earlier. Given several hours of time to fill and only a page and a half of script, Candy Bowen, the web producer, sprinkled in descriptions about atrial fibrillation and gave health tips. Meanwhile, in the waiting room, Peacock's family watched the updates on a wide-screen television. “It’s some reassurance that everything's going well,” Melissa Peacock said.
A few minutes before 6 p.m., this message popped up on Twitter: “Mr. P says hi, and is responsive.” And then a minute later: “Mr. P has been informed that his family has been updated. And he's smiling.”
Information provided by The Florida Times-Union to Associated Press.