Dental Student Detects A-Fib

Photo by Jerry Mastey


Photo by Jerry Mastey

Jack Morris, a 59-year-old patient, has been receiving oral health care at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry for the past year. But when third-year dental student Brandon Churchman detected an irregular heartbeat during a routine blood pressure check at the school’s 2 Green Clinic in July, he suspected something could be wrong.

“As dental students, a blood pressure check of each patient is a standard part of the care we provide. That helps us to identify any possible irregularities before we begin a treatment session,” said Churchman, who also is a certified physician’s assistant and a paramedic. “When I saw Mr. Morris’ reading, I knew right away that something wasn’t right. I was pretty sure it was A-fib (atrial fibrillation).”

“This was the first time a healthcare provider told me that something wasn’t right,” said Morris. “I thought something wasn’t right for a couple of years. Brandon told me he suspected I had atrial fibrillation and that he would not be treating me that day.”

Churchman then walked Morris to an electrocardiogram (EKG) unit at the school’s department of oral and maxillofacial surgery just down the hall. The EKG confirmed the student’s suspicions. Morris then was admitted to the University of Michigan Hospital and was observed for 2 days before being discharged.

A-fib is an irregular and sometimes rapid heartbeat that results in poor blood flow throughout the body. Patients sometimes are unaware of their condition until it’s detected during an exam. Symptoms include heart palpitations, weakness, and shortness of breath, sometimes requiring emergency treatment. A-fib also can lead to a stroke.

“I am grateful to use that education and training I received to help Mr. Morris when he was here at the school of dentistry,” said Churchman.

“I appreciate what Brandon did for me,” said Morris. “Because of his training, he confirmed what I had suspected all along—that something wasn’t right.”

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