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Published on May 13, 2016

After heart scare, Eddie Pitts is back on the board

By Amanda Williamson, Shorelines

Almost every morning finds Eddie Pitts out on Jacksonville Beach collecting information about the weather, the tides and the waves for his website 911 Surf Report — but last year, his heart forced him to stop.

Not because he was drawn to a new endeavor, but because suddenly, Pitts started experiencing irregular heartbeats and flutters. These, he said, can be a precursor to stroke. Already a former patient of St. Vincent’s Healthcare, he returned to see if anything could be done to help. In June 2015, not long after the atrial fibrillation started, Pitts received a cryoballoon ablation, a procedure which uses cold energy to electrically silence the muscle fibers causing the AFib.

Now days, Pitts is back out on the water and attributes all the healthy years in front of him to his doctors.

“I’m telling you, you really don’t know if you’re going to live or die. But, you don’t die. It just stops, then it comes back,” he said. “I’m out on the beach every morning getting the surf report together, and I know I wouldn’t be here without St. Vincent’s.”

Pitts used to work as a property appraiser until the market crash in 2007 forced him out of business. As a surfer and a photographer, he frequently found himself out on the beaches, photographing the local surfers. Children frequently asked him if they could see the photos he snapped of them, he said. It happened so often that one day a surfer told him he needed to get his own website.

Enter the 911 Surf Report.

Originally, he used it mainly as a place to store his photographs. It outgrew those meager beginnings. These days the website sees more than 5,000 visitors a day and catalogues surf reports in Florida, Costa Rica, Peru, California and more.

When the atrial fibrillation started, however, it slowed Pitts down. He developed a shortness of breath and fatigue. Soon, he could no longer paddle his surfboard into the oncoming waves. Having dealth with AFib 10 years earlier, Pitts knew he was suffering from one of the most common sustained arrhythmias — but one that could potentially cost him his life. He placed his health into the hands of Dr. Anthony Magnano, a cardiac electrophysiologist and co-director of St. Vincent’s Atrial Fibrillation Institute.

Some people, Magnana said, feel rapid or irregular heartbeats, while others might not notice it at all. In Pitts’ case, the pacemaker he already had helped doctors track the atrial fibrillation. While the situation can be managed with blood thinners, Magnano said there are people who would rather not take daily medications. For Pitts, the pills weren’t working.

In those situations, the cryoballoon ablation is a common treatment, and Magnano reports an 80 percent success rate among his work and that of his associates.

With May being Stroke Awareness Month, Magnano said individuals should always maintain proper care of their body through diet and exercise. But, in case that isn’t enough, then people should be consistent in checking their blood pressure, getting regular check-ups and in being mindful if they suffer from atrial fibrillation.

Those are especially important as people get older, he said.

When Pitts went into the hospital for this non-invasive procedure, his heart rate was all over the place. He said it bounced from 140 to 58 to 72. However, when he woke up, it was completely back to normal.

“I felt fine, completely normal,” he said.

Shortly after, a weather event brought “fabulous fall surfing” to Jacksonville Beach: “I was back out surfing hardcore.”

These days, Pitts also has a pacemaker, which he considers mainly an insurance policy. Since his heart beats normally, the pacemaker doesn’t get much use — but it is nice to know it is there as backup.

“We have so many baby boomers, just like me, that have been athletes for years and don’t want to stop going,” he said. “They get AFib and they have other heart problems. So, I would say go and see those doctors. You don’t have to live with that.”

With his newfound energy, he likes to dedicate much of his time to continuing the surf report — and of course, to paddling out on his board and tackling the waves of Jacksonville Beach.

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