By JEFF MEYERS
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Alfred Loka was first interested in becoming a doctor when he was a 7-year-old boy living in central Africa.
Today, Loka has joined the CVPH Heart Center as an electrophysiologist, specializing in the electrical currents that power the heart and the medical conditions that disrupt those electrical impulses.
Whereas the cardiologist focuses on the flow of blood through the heart and blood vessels, the electrophysiologist concentrates on maintaining a healthy heartbeat.
“Both are very much interactive,” Loka said of the team of heart specialists at the Heart Center. “If you think of the cardiologist as the plumber who keeps everything running smoothly, we are the electricians who take care of the electrical current.”
He also likened the comparison to an automobile that relies on gas to power its engine but also on the battery and electrical system to start the vehicle and to keep it running smoothly.
As a youngster, Loka’s father had a heart condition that required him to see a cardiologist on a regular basis. Young Alfred would go with his father to the doctor’s office and was immediately impressed with the health-care field.
“I would tell myself that I wanted to be able to take care of my father one day,” he recalled of that early interest in becoming a physician.
Loka graduated from medical school in 1996 while still living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire. After working there as a physician for a few years, he decided that he wanted to expand his skills as a cardiologist and moved to the United States.
“I came to Detroit, Mich., in May 2001 and did not speak English,” he said.
While working in a research lab at Wayne State University School of Medicine in 2003, Loka was introduced to the study of sudden cardiac arrest and the causes that lead up to a fatal loss of heart rhythm.
“I developed a vested interest in that sub-specialty,” he said of his decision to pursue a career in electrophysiology. “Quite often, abnormal heart rhythms are not life-threatening, but they can impair the quality of life.”
Atrial fibrillation and supraventricular tachycardia can be treated with medications to help the heart beat regularly or through procedures such as cardiac ablations to correct the problem that is causing an irregular heartbeat.
“When we diagnose an arrhythmia, the next step is how to best manage that condition, what we can do to prevent it from becoming a life-threatening condition,” Loka said.
Most patients with irregular heartbeats are referred to electrophysiologists by their primary-care doctors after seeing a cardiologist who has ruled out other conditions such as blocked arteries.
“One of the most common conditions we see is atrial fibrillation,” Loka said of the arrhythmia that causes the heart’s upper chambers to contract abnormally. “In and of itself, it is not life-threatening, but treatment is important to prevent future problems.”
Many people suffering from irregular heartbeats developed the problem following some other heart issue, such as a heart attack that has weakened the heart muscle.
But there is a second group of people who may have a potential problem for developing an arrhythmia, including active and otherwise healthy young adults, Loka noted.
Following his training in cardiology, Loka traveled to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., where he specialized in electrophysiology.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock is the same university where Dr. Samer Siouffi trained. Siouffi has been practicing at the CVPH Heart Center for the past six years, and it is that connection that brought Loka to the North Country.
“My program director knew that I wanted to work in a community hospital in the Northeast,” he said, noting that he has a son living in Montreal, and finding a job close to his son was one of the priorities he considered.
“He also knew Dr. Siouffi and asked (him) if there was an opportunity up here. I felt it was a great fit,” Loka said.
Loka arrived in August and jumped onboard as Siouffi’s colleague in treating the region’s arrhythmia cases.
“Dr. Siouffi has been in the field for 16 years now, which is as much time as most of the people who trained me have experienced,” Loka said. “He is definitely my partner and colleague, but most importantly, he is my mentor. He is a voice I can go to for advice and support.”
Electrophyisiology as a specialty was all but unheard of in Loka’s native land, but since coming to America and expanding his abilities, Loka brings an added skill to a growing field in health care.
Email Jeff Meyers: