Heart Health

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A cardiac catheterization lab is an important tool in a cardiologist’s arsenal in the battle against a multitude of cardiovascular diseases.

Thanks to a number of recent upgrades to Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville’s cardiac catheterization lab, cardiologists at Valley Baptist have more tools than ever to help care for the region’s cardiac patients.

Heidi Lounsberry Jones, RN, director of cardiovascular services, said the upgrades to the catheterization lab are important pieces to helping provide comprehensive cardiac care to a region that is traditionally underserved when it comes to cardiac care.

“The upgrades provide state-of-the-art technology in the treatment, performance, and diagnosis of cardiac problems,” Lounsberry said. “The improved technology allows for better image quality, allowing the cardiologist and cardiac team improved visualization of the vessels of the patients’ heart and legs.

“Better technology and imaging allows for quicker procedure performance, decrease in radiation and dye dosing, providing better patient care and improved quality of services.”

The more than $2.5 million worth of upgrades to Valley Baptist-Brownsville’s cardiac catheterization lab include a full renovation and upgrade to imaging equipment, and an expansion that will allow cardiac specialists at Valley Baptist to soon perform more specialized procedures to benefit patients — including electrophysiology procedures — according to cardiologist Dr. Fadi Alfayoumi, medical director of the cardiac catheterization lab.

The cardiac catheterization lab at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville is a highly-specialized unit in the hospital equipped with the latest technology where cardiologists work alongside specially-trained nurses and staff to perform a wide variety of minimally invasive tests and advanced cardiac procedures to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease.

Cardiologists in the cardiac catheterization lab utilize special imaging technology to examine arteries and visualize how well blood is flowing throughout a patient’s circulatory system, which provides a physician with vital information to help diagnose and fix potential blockages or determine the best course of treatment for every patient.

Electrophysiologist Dr. James Strickland described electrophysiology as an important subspecialty of cardiology dealing with unusual heart rhythms and electrical activity. Treating those issues successfully can help patients live a higher quality of life by reducing their risk of serious health conditions.

“Cardiac electrophysiology is the practice to diagnose and treat heart arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms. Arrhythmias can cause a person’s heart to beat too fast or too slow,” said electrophysiologist Dr. James Strickland, a physician who will be utilizing the cardiac catheterization lab’s new upgrades to treat patients. “Arrhythmias typically cause symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, and chest pains; and can lead to conditions such as stroke or heart failure. Most arrhythmias can be treated with ablation – a catheter based procedure designed to correct the problem and restore normal heart rhythm.”

For a community that suffers from a higher prevalence of diabetes, obesity, and the other medical conditions caused by both diseases, having additional cardiac services can help improve the quality of life for many throughout the Valley — especially for patients who may require more specific care.

For example, to treat patients who cannot utilize traditional blood thinners, cardiologists at Valley Baptist-Brownsville will soon be able to perform procedures in the catheterization lab to implant a permanent device into a patient’s heart to help reduce their risk of stroke.

“This will be an option we can now offer to help protect some of our patients from an increased risk of stroke,” Dr. Alfayoumi said. “This is a great example of how our upgrades aren’t about new toys being added to the system, it is more of a collaborative effort between cardiologists, the administration, and the cath lab team to take our lab to the next level for the betterment of our patients.”

Dr. Alfayoumi said teamwork is a critical component to positive outcomes for cardiac patients, regardless of which procedure their medical condition dictates.

“This did not come about by chance,” he said. “We did not hire people and just got lucky with them. Teamwork is extremely important at Valley Baptist-Brownsville — from the person who transports a patient from their room to the cath lab, to our staff once the patient is in the lab.

“We’ve built a very powerful, highly motivated, caring team for our patients. It is my personal belief that we’ve built the strongest cath lab team in the entire Rio Grande Valley.”

Dr. Afayoumi said the same teamwork that goes into successfully treating patients was vital to accomplishing the recent upgrades to the lab’s capabilities, and that the upgrades were built upon a solid foundation of a history of excellent cardiac care at Valley Baptist-Brownsville.

“We built the infrastructure for our cath lab with the mentality of, ‘Once we do it, we do it right; it is going to last forever,’” he said. “That’s the mentality here. We were very patient and thorough when making the decisions to upgrade our cath lab.

“There is a vision and there is group efforts to make these types of things happen. That’s why at Valley Baptist, we believe that when we make something happen, we believe they will last for a long time — and that’s why we believe we have the best team.”

Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville’s new electrophysiology lab will soon offer the following treatments and procedures:

Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT)

CRT is commonly performed in conjunction with defibrillator implantation. Patients with weak heart muscles often have disorganized muscle function, which means the left and right chambers of the heart do not beat in unison. This further impairs the heart’s ability to perform well, resulting in shortness of breath and fatigue. To treat this condition, wires are threaded from a pacemaker to the heart to help it beat in an organized and more efficient way.

Catheter ablation

This procedure treats heart rhythm disturbances and is typically performed in conjunction with an electrophysiology study. The tip of a catheter is heated or cooled next to the area of the heart responsible for the rhythm disturbance, which helps restore normal heart rhythm.

Electrophysiology (EP) study

EP study aims to assess the heart’s activity or electrical system to diagnose arrhythmia. It is performed by inserting catheters and wire electrodes through the blood vessels that enter the heart.

Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implantation

An ICD is an electronic device that constantly monitors the heart rhythm. It is usually recommended for patients who have had a severe episode of an abnormally fast heart rhythm or are at high risk for having them. A surgeon implants the defibrillator under the skin, usually below the left collarbone. A wire is threaded through a large vein to connect the device to the heart. When ICD detects a very fast, abnormal heart rhythm, it delivers energy to the heart muscle to restore its normal rhythm.

Implantable loop recorder (ILR)

This small monitor is implanted just under the skin on the chest to record the heart’s electrical activity. It is a useful diagnostic tool for patients who experience symptoms such as fainting, rapid heartbeat, lightheadedness, or dizziness. It’s typically used when the symptoms are not frequent enough to be captured by a 24-hour or 30-day external monitor. An ILR can be used for two to three years, if necessary.

Pacemaker implantation

A pacemaker is a battery-operated device that can change the rhythm or speed of a beating heart. It is about the size of a 50-cent piece but thicker. A pacemaker treats bradycardia, a condition where the heart beats too slowly. The surgeon implants a pacemaker under the skin, usually below the left collarbone. Wires are threaded through a large vein to connect the device to the heart.

The pacemaker sends electrical pulses to keep the heart beating regularly. Pacemakers work on demand and can be programmed to respond to your body’s needs. If a pacemaker senses your heart is missing a beat or beating too slowly, it will send signals to prompt heartbeats. If it senses your heart is beating normally by itself, it does not send out any signals.

Matt Lynch