BALTIMORE -

Terry Smith loves walking and wood-working, but the retired police officer had to slow down when he found out he had an irregular heartbeat.

"I think my heart rate was over 220 at one time," said Smith, who had atrial fibrillation.

Faulty electrical signals caused his heart to beat out of whack. If untreated, A-fib can lead to heart failure or stroke.

When medication fails, radiofrequency ablation is used to heat the heart and destroy tissue that causes the irregularity, but it isn't always effective.

Instead of heating the heart, Dr. Jeffrey Banker, a heart rhythm specialist at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, is now freezing hearts with cryo-ablation.

"It actually does cure it. It gets rid of the signals and gets rid of the arrhythmia altogether in many patients," Banker said.

Doctors thread a catheter through the groin and inject liquid coolant through a small balloon, freezing the heart tissue. This restores the heart's rhythm for about 90 percent of patients.

Smith had the procedure and is back to enjoying another one of his pastimes, collecting toy trains.

"I haven't been in A-fib since I had the procedure, this last one. I've been fine," Smith said.

That means he can focus less on his health and more on his hobbies.

Most cryo-ablation patients go home the same day and can resume normal activities the next day.

Studies show cryo-ablation is less likely to damage heart tissue than radiofrequency ablation.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary and an in-depth interview with the doctor