Patient Stories

In Flight Once Again: Airline Pilot Grounded by AFib Diagnosis Returns to His Passion

Patient Stories

In Flight Once Again: Airline Pilot Grounded by AFib Diagnosis Returns to His Passion

Rusty Bliss, 65, Tennessee

Veteran Delta Airlines Pilot Rusty Bliss went in for his annual mandatory EKG scan, and it was there that he learned his diagnosis of Atrial Fibrillation. It was shocking news, as Rusty had gone running that day and had no symptoms whatsoever. Due to FAA health and safety regulations, Rusty’s diagnosis meant he was grounded, and unable to fly for 12 months.

Kristine Bliss, Rusty’s wife of 32 years, said the diagnosis was devastating since flying had always been a passion for Rusty. The father of four obtained his private pilot’s license when he was in high school and had been flying ever since.

“Rusty always knew he wanted to be a pilot, and he worked really hard at it. There were a lot of times when he just hung out at the airport watching airplanes,” explained Kris.

Dr. Jose Osorio, Director, Cardiac Electrophysiology, Grandview Medical Center, Birmingham, AL and the cardiology team tasked with operating on Rusty, elected to use the help of the Biosense Webster, Inc.* CARTO® 3 System.

After the 12-month probationary period and a successful ablation procedure, Rusty passed his physical and returned to his passion, flying planes.

Rusty described what it was like finally returning to doing what he loves, saying “When I first got back to work I remember looking out and saying ‘I’m back.” I loved it, I was so happy to be back because I missed the cockpit, I missed the flight deck, I missed the people I worked with, I missed the interaction.”

At his one-year checkup following the procedure, Rusty returned to visit Dr. Osorio, and the two realized yet another special connection. The day before the appointment, Captain Rusty Bliss had piloted the plane that Dr. Osorio was on, coming home from his trip to Japan. “His life was in my hands, and one year later my life was in his hands,” said Dr. Osorio, explaining just how special the experience was.

“Being able to return to flying status…gave me the opportunity to just kind of reflect a little bit. I started in 1978 as a co-pilot on the Covair 580, and here I am in my 40th year later flying the Airbus A350,” said Rusty. “I look back and I think about my career, where it has been, where it has gone, and where it has taken me. I’m blessed to be able to do a job that I love so much… I just can’t thank my lucky stars enough.”

pilot in plane

*Biosense Webster, Inc.: Part of the Johnson and Johnson Family of Companies


Remember, as with any medical treatment, individual results may vary. Only a cardiologist or electrophysiologist can determine whether ablation is an appropriate course of treatment. There are potential risks including bleeding, swelling or bruising at the catheter insertion site, and infection. More serious complications are rare, which can include damage to the heart or blood vessels; blood clots (which may lead to stroke); heart attack, or death. These risks need to be discussed with your doctor and recovery takes time.

The success of this procedure depends on many factors, including your physical condition and your body’s ability to tolerate the procedure. Use care in the selection of your doctors and hospital, based on their skill and experience.

Caution: US law restricts this device to sale by or on the order of a physician. Important information: Prior to use, refer to the instructions for use supplied with this device for indications, contraindications, side effects, warnings and precautions.

THERMOCOOL® Navigation Catheters are indicated for the treatment of drug refractory recurrent symptomatic paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, when used with CARTO® 3 Systems (excluding NAVISTAR® RMT THERMOCOOL® Catheter).