Kathi Sigona

Treatment Puts Arrhythmia Patient Back in School

Kathi Sigona

Kathi Sigona came to UCSF with a tall stack of medical records and a lot of anxiety about her heart condition. Dr. Jeffrey Olgin, co-director of the UCSF Heart and Vascular Center, helped Sigona get her arrhythmia under control and return to her two loves: work and travel.

Why did you choose UCSF?

After my cardiologist in Modesto told me I had atrial fibrillation, I began to research where I could get the best possible care. I was ready to go anywhere in the United States, but before long I learned that one of the best medical centers in the country was in my own backyard, at UCSF.

Why did you choose Dr. Olgin?

I was scared witless when I went in to meet him. I was newly diagnosed and I didn't fully understand what was happening to me. That's why it was such a relief to meet him. From the very first minute, I knew I could trust him.

My husband was with me and Dr. Olgin spent an incredible amount of time answering our questions. He explained every last detail of my condition and my treatment options. He didn't flinch when I pulled out my 4-inch-thick folder of medical records, test results and Internet research. He reviewed the entire thing with us.

He also really listened to what I had to say. Instead of just fixating on the numbers, he looked me in the eye and asked, "How do you really feel?" It sounds so simple but it made me feel more like a person and less like a diagnosis. He was genuinely concerned about how my atrial fibrillation was affecting my quality of life. He heard me when I expressed how important it was for me to be able to continue living life to its fullest. Right off the bat, I felt like we were a team.

How was the condition affecting your life?

As a middle school principal, I was always on my feet. All day long, I strode from one end of the 15-acre campus to the other. I was in and out of classrooms, the library, the playground and the cafeteria. But atrial fibrillation zapped my energy. I actually had to sit at my desk! I'm not the type of person to spend my time sitting down.

My highest priority was getting back to work. I loved my job and I missed being at full capacity. I also love to travel, and the unpredictability of my condition made me nervous to stray too far away from home. Even when I did go on trips, I was too tired to enjoy the sights.

How was your atrial fibrillation treated?

Dr. Olgin changed my medications to see if a different drug therapy might help. When it didn't, he performed an ablation, a surgical procedure to restore the heart's natural rhythm. I've since had three more ablations. Dr. Olgin has watched my progress very closely. I also had a pacemaker implanted to keep my heart on track. I visit UCSF twice a year for routine follow-up. Thanks to Dr. Olgin and UCSF, my atrial fibrillation is in check.

How was your care at UCSF overall?

I was impressed by the level of care. For example, I got a 24-hour number to call when an arrhythmia came on. The first time I called it, a doctor answered and told me what to do. I was flabbergasted that I got a real doctor on the phone that quickly!

I had the same great experience every time I used the emergency number, even when I called from Canada. Knowing I had my team on-call gave me peace of mind.

How are you doing after your treatment?

I'm doing great. I'm back in the classroom, this time working at Brandon University where I supervise student teachers, which is a joy. I like to say I've graduated from middle school to the university level!

I'm also back to traveling whenever I get the chance. Some of my favorite destinations are Prague, Budapest and London. I grew up overseas, so traveling is in my blood.

What advice would you give other patients?

Make your health a priority. Realize that no one is going to be more invested in your care than you.

Interviewed February 2013 by Catherine Guthrie

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To read an interview with Dr. Jeffrey Olgin, click here.


Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Electrophysiology & Arrhythmia Service
400 Parnassus Ave., Fifth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-2554
Fax: (415) 353-2528

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Jeffrey Olgin
Dr. Jeffrey Olgin,
cardiologist and electrophysiologist