To the Beat of the Heart

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In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death for most ethnic and racial groups, per the Centers for Disease Control. In the Rio Grande Valley, one hospital stands to provide dedicated heart-related medical care to patients: South Texas Health System Heart (STHS Heart) hospital in McAllen. When it opened in 1996, STHS Heart was one of the first freestanding cardiology and cardiovascular hospitals in the U.S.

Today, it remains the RGV’s only freestanding heart hospital and has provided award-winning care to cardiac patients in need. In the past three years, STHS Heart has been named among the top 10% of the Nation for Cardiology Services and Coronary Interventional Procedures. It is also the only hospital to receive the Healthgrades Coronary Intervention Excellence Award for three years in a row.

Carol Mejia, director of advanced cardiac care services, has been working with STHS Heart for a little over 20 years. Mejia oversees the Structural Heart program, specifically the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) program. She is also a part of the shared care Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) team, among others.

“The most rewarding part of my job is providing support and information to help patients, and their caregivers, understand their diagnosis — and how they can participate in their care to optimize their quality of life,” Mejia said. “With the Structural Heart program, I most appreciate working with the patients in the preparation for the valve replacement procedure, seeing them through to the procedure and beyond, seeing them obtain relief of symptoms, improved health, and quality of life.”

One of the many heart services provided by STHS Heart is the TAVR procedure. Mejia works closely with the physicians who perform the procedure, which involves the insertion of a manmade valve to help increase blood flow from the heart to the body. TAVR patients can begin to restore blood flow and decrease symptoms of aortic valve stenosis, which is the narrowing of the valve between the left lower heart chamber and the body’s main artery.

“(TAVR) patients have a lower length of stay, minimal discomfort, those kinds of things. So it’s a much less invasive manner to replace their aortic valve,” Mejia explained. “Aortic valve stenosis comes along with a lot of symptoms of shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, and decreased quality of life. So, when we can offer an option, and especially one that’s less invasive and easier on a more frail and possibly more elderly patient, it’s nice to be able to offer something that they feel like, ‘Gosh, I think I could get through that,’ compared to an open surgical procedure is quite difficult for a very frail or elderly patient to endure.”

Mejia further described a fairly new device offered at STHS Heart, CardioMEMS, that helps heart and congestive failure patients monitor their condition with pulmonary artery pressure remote monitoring.

“One of the things with heart failure patients is almost a daily self-monitoring of symptoms and close communication with their physicians,” Mejia said. “So the CardioMEMS is a small pulmonary artery pressure sensor placed in the body into the pulmonary artery. It will continually monitor the pulmonary artery pressure, and that’s the first place in the body that volume overload starts to cause an increase in pressure where someone could notice that and treat it early. It’s just a nicer way to avoid a lot of exacerbation and hospitalizations.”

Along with surgical care, STHS Heart offers the South Texas Health System Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation program, which is one of the only intensive cardiac rehab programs in South Texas.

If you or anyone you know may be at risk for heart disease, STHS Heart offers non-invasive and low-cost cardiac screenings to assess one’s heart health. For more information, the hospital is located at 1900 S. D St., McAllen, TX 78503 and can be reached at (956) 994-2000.

Elisa Garcia