Acadiana swimmer thankful for life-saving procedure

Posted at 7:17 AM, Jul 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-09 11:17:00-04

Richard Lafleur has been swimming competitively for nine years.

"My main goal in swimming is to make Olympic trials," Lafleur said. "Not in 2020, but in 2024--that is my main goal in swimming."

But that dream was almost shattered after a routine physical.

"That day they were checking me up and everything fine," Lafleur explained. "When the doctor started to check my heart he noticed that something was off. He called in more doctors and they said, "your heart beat is a little irregular."

Lafleur said he and his mom were shocked.

Lafleur was told, in order to fix the issue, he would have to have surgery. He and his mom headed to Ochsner in New Orleans.

However, that surgery never happened. Lafleur said his heart started to beat normal right before the procedure, and doctors told him there was nothing they could do at that time.

Acadiana swimmer gets life saving procedure
Acadiana swimmer, Richard Lafleur, recieves life saving procedure as he works toward gold.

Lafleur kept swimming.

He said his endurance was down and his hope for Olympic gold started to slip away.

"It was effecting the way that I was just seemed a lot harder than it would normally be," Lafleur said.

He decided to take another shot at surgery. This time with Dr. Patrick Welch, a cardiologist with Our Lady of Lourdes in Lafayette.

"What we talked about was a cryoablation procedure, where a catheter that we use to actually perform the tissue destruction, freezes the tissue as opposed to cauterizing it. It seems to be less traumatic and better tolerated by the patient. In the long run it is more effective with a lower chance of the rhythm recurring."

Lafleur said he was ready. Anxious to get back into the pool and back to training for Olympic trials.

"We put it in the body deflated and inflate it once it's in the atrium," Dr. Welch explained as he demonstrated the procedure. "It wedges into the opening of the vein, like this, we run a refrigerant through to cool the balloon--minus 80 Centigrade for a three minute freeze. There are four veins, we freeze all four, and the procedure is finished."

Hours after surgery, Lafleur was back home and just a few weeks later he was back in the pool.

"Ever since then I've been swimming perfectly and I'm just thankful," Lafleur said with a smile.

While the road to get to this point was a long one, Lafleur said it was worth it.