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By Lynne Adkins

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (CBS) — Patients with a common but dangerous and hard-to-treat heart ailment may find help at a Bucks County hospital, where surgeons are treating patients who have had no success with other therapies.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm which can cause blood clots, stroke, or even heart failure.  The first treatment is medication, but when that doesn’t work doctors may thread a laser into the heart and destroy tissue from within to restore normal rhythm.

But the back of the heart, which may be the cause of the problem, is often not treated because the esophagus is right behind it and could be damaged.

Now, Dr. Joseph Auteri, cardiothoracic surgeon at the Heart Institute of Doylestown Hospital, is using a laser on the heart from the outside in, which avoids the risk to the esophagus.

He thinks this new procedure works well.

“Because we’re coming from the back of the heart, we’re able to do it much more safely, therefore the likelihood of patients going back into normal rhythm is much higher,” he says.

And he is seeing very good success rates.

“There aren’t large studies yet, but we expect somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of patients will have normal rhythm after the  procedure,” he tells KYW Newsradio.

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