02/20/13 — Partnership allows heart patients to get surgery close to home

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Partnership allows heart patients to get surgery close to home

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on February 20, 2013 1:46 PM

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Dr. J.D. Gupta points to a screen displaying an image of an artery where a stent would be placed. Wayne Memorial Hospital is now able to perform cardiac intervention procedures, saving patients a trip to WakeMed Heart Center and, in some cases, lives.

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Dr. Gupta, Dr. Joel Schneider and Dr. Waheed Ahktar stand in the catheterization lab of Wayne Memorial Hospital.

Gary Pine thought it was just heartburn when he returned from his third shift of work at Butterball Jan. 10 and had a sharp pain in his chest.

"It felt like someone was holding a blowtorch to my chest," he said.

As it got worse, his wife began to worry, and before long, they were at Wayne Memorial Hospital where Pine was told he would need to have a stent placed in an artery.

Before December, surgeons at Wayne Memorial would have sent Pine to Raleigh for the intervention stent, but thanks to a partnership with WakeMed Heart Center and Wake Heart and Vascular, an affiliate of Rex/UNC Healthcare, he was eligible for treatment locally.

Drs. Joel Schneider and Matthew Hook, partners with Wake Heart and Vascular, are leading a new program at the hospital which allows cardiac stenting to be performed in Goldsboro.

Previously, only diagnostic catheterizations were offered at Wayne Memorial, which allowed surgeons to determine whether there was a need for an intervention stent, which hold artery walls open to allow for blood flow in arteries that may be clogged.

After determining whether a stent is needed, patients were sent to WakeMed Heart Center, meaning an overnight stay in Raleigh, generally, and a delay.

That would have been bad news for Pine, as Hook, his surgeon, told him they got the stent in him just in time.

"He told me that he got me so quickly that there wasn't any damage to my heart. If I had waited it would have been a lot worse," he said. "They performed the surgery right away. Timewise, if I had to wait to go to WakeMed, I'm afraid there would have been damage to my heart."

Pine, 63, said that trip to the hospital was all the wake-up call he needed.

He said he's "more than 100 percent" back to his old self, thanks to a low-sodium diet his doctor prescribed. He said he's lost 27 pounds in the past month and feels like he's 30 years old, all of which he credits to changing his eating habits and doing what his doctor said.

"My doctor said I have more chance of dying in a car accident than a heart attack now," he said. "I can't believe the difference it's made in me."

Based on his experience, he said he fully backs the hospital's decision to perform cardiac intervention procedures locally, and the doctors seem to agree.

"This is the best thing for this hospital and this community," Dr. Waheed Ahktar said.

Ahktar, who is affiliated with Wake Heart and Vascular, assists with the procedures locally along with Dr. J.D. Gupta, who also praised the program.

What made the partnership possible, Gupta points out, is advancements in technologies and studies that show having heart bypass capabilities are not necessary for intervention stents.

"The technology has evolved over time to allow us to do this without surgery backup," Schneider said.

He added that 10 to 15 years ago, about 15 percent of stents placed had complications, with many of them requiring emergency help.

Ambulances are still available just in case a patient experienced complications and would need to be transported to WakeMed, but those cases today are extraordinarily rare, Schneider said.

The benefits for the patient, besides cases like Pine's where every moment counts, are that diagnostic and intervention stents can be performed at the same site, Gupta said.

"We can tell the patient 'Let's check it," and if we can fix it, we can fix it," he said.

Some situations will still require transfers to WakeMed, Gupta said, for the sake of safety, but he said the stents placed at Wayne Memorial are just as safe as those placed at WakeMed.

And for patients whose family live in and around Goldsboro, having the procedure locally can be a great cost-cutting measure, all while allowing for loved ones to visit without having to drive into Wake County.

Those who are concerned about their heart health should discuss it with their primary care physician, who can refer them to a local cardiologist.