State-of-the-art cardiology lab scheduled to open in Vail in January

Shauna Farnell
Special to the Daily
After suffering a heart artery blockage three years ago, Cordillera resident Dave Bentley was able to reach a Cardiac Catheterization Lab in Denver quickly enough to have a stent inserted to unblock the artery. A brand new, state-of-the-art Cath Lab is scheduled to open in Vail in January.
Special to the Daily |

VAIL — Three years ago, Dave Bentley was wrapping up a ski day at Vail when he started having pain in his chest. Healthy and active with no history of medical issues, the 65-year-old Cordillera resident assumed it was something he’d eaten for lunch.

“It was a ski-with-the-guys day — strong, all-out. We had a late lunch and were halfway down Bear Tree when all of a sudden I started to get a sharp, pressing pain high in my chest,” Bentley said. “There was no throbbing, no tingling of the arm. I thought it was some sort of really bad indigestion.”

By the time Bentley reached the bottom of the mountain, his pain was so intense it was making him sweat. Luckily, his ski buddy worked in the medical field and recognized Bentley’s symptoms as a possible heart attack. He was put into an ambulance, taken to Vail Valley Medical Center, stabilized and transported via helicopter to Denver, where cardiologist Dr. Jerry Greenberg was waiting for him.

“Dr. Greenberg was out to meet the helicopter and got me connected to the gurney. He literally jogged into the cath lab to get me going. It was that critical,” Bentley recalls.

As it turns out, Bentley was undergoing a type of heart artery blockage ominously dubbed by medical experts as “The Widow Maker.” Access to a cardiac catheterization lab (cath lab) was critical, and Dr. Greenberg’s expertise and quick response were life-saving. He inserted a stent to unblock the artery, and Bentley was able to walk away amazingly unscathed.

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Had his friend not recognized the symptoms of a heart attack, had he been higher up on the mountain, had the weather been worse and caused a delayed helicopter flight, had he not arrived at Denver’s cath lab so quickly … had any of these pieces played out differently, Bentley likely wouldn’t be the one telling his story.

“Had any one of those steps gone south, I wouldn’t have made it,” he said. “I’m a lucky guy.”

Heart attacks on the mountain are not uncommon, and in winter, weather conditions can present a major obstacle in travel. Not every victim’s experience ends as happily as Bentley’s did.

Fortunately, Vail Valley Medical Center is going to great lengths to ensure that heart attack victims and cardiology patients have everything they need right here in the valley. A brand new, state-of-the-art cath lab is scheduled to open in January, and VVMC has brought Dr. Jerry Greenberg and his partner of 30 years, Dr. Nelson Prager, to Vail full-time. Greenberg specializes in interventional cardiology, and Prager’s specialty areas include electrophysiology, heart rhythm disturbances and coronary artery disease. With the two full-time cardiologists, patients can stay in Vail for everything from pacemaker implants to angiograms, and the lab will allow immediate treatment of most heart attacks and other emergencies.

“We’re really excited about the cath lab,” Greenberg said. “Soon, when folks come into Vail Valley Medical Center for treatment, they’re going to be cared for right here. It’s not an automatic trip to Denver.”

Ultimately, this will lead to more happy endings to life-threatening incidents.

“I think I had about a three-hour survival window,” Bentley said. “Transit time to Denver is, in the best of circumstances, about an hour. Having a cath lab in town would have greatly expanded my window of opportunity. Bringing this technology to Vail will be an enormous life saver.”

VVMC’s cath lab will open in early 2015.

“We are pleased to offer our community and visitors the life-saving technology of a cath lab, as well as the expert team of our Cardiology Institute,” said VVMC President and CEO Doris Kirchner. “As Vail’s aging population requires greater healthcare support and expanded services, the hospital is responding to accommodate this need.”

This year’s Vail Valley Medical Center Family Dinner Dance on Dec. 28 will raise funds to offset the cost of the cath lab. Attendees will bid on silent and live auction items, and generous donors will raise their paddles for a special appeal to raise significant dollars for the lab.

“For 34 years, the Family Dinner Dance has funded invaluable technology and programs to enhance medical care in our community,” Kirchner said. “Funds raised this year for the cath lab will truly save lives.”

Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer contracted by the Vail Valley Medical Center.

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