Western Slope cardiac care expands
- A racing heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Valley View’s Heart & Vascular Center delivers services for which patients previously had to travel to Denver, Salt Lake City, and even as far as the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona.
By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Valley View Hospital
When Dr. Frank Laws came to Valley View Hospital in 2005, he helped establish the hospital’s first cardiac catheterization lab, to meet the growing needs of the region. Those needs have continued to grow, which is why the expansion in cardiac care also has shown no signs of slowing.
High quality specialty care in a rural region such as the Western Slope was a challenge for which Dr. Laws, an electrophysiologist and interventional cardiologist at the Heart & Vascular Center at Valley View, knew he could succeed in.
“In early 2006, I worked with the architects in designing the future catheterization labs and the ICU. I also spearheaded the recruitment of personnel to staff the new cath lab,” Dr. Laws said. “My initial contract was for 3 years. Now, over 12 years later, we continue to push the boundaries of what people think is possible for cardiac care in a rural area.”
Outside of their main office in Glenwood Springs, Valley View’s Heart & Vascular Center offers services in Eagle, Grand Junction, Meeker, Rangely and Rifle, providing essential care for patients in the region suffering from heart conditions, who would otherwise have to travel long distances for care.
‘Diseases of lifestyle’
Heart diseases encompass a wide range of conditions such as atrial fibrillation and coronary disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Laws said these diseases are largely “diseases of lifestyle” because lifestyle choices are typically a person’s biggest risk factor.
“Lifestyle choices play a large role in the prevention of heart disease. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise remains a cornerstone for heart health,” he said.
Atrial fibrillation, commonly referred to as AFib, is a common heart condition that has a higher than average prevalence along the rural Western slope because of the high altitude. “High altitude can also lead to sleep apnea, a modifiable risk factor of Afib,” said Dr. Laws.
“In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart experience chaotic electrical signals, and quiver as a result,” Dr. Laws said. “The electrical connection between the atria and the ventricles in the heart is inundated with impulses, leading to a fast and irregular heart rhythm.”
AFib can happen to people of any age, but aging does increase its risk. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, underlying heart disease, drinking alcohol, family history, sleep apnea, being an athlete and other chronic medical conditions, according to the American Heart Association.
Dr. Laws said other conditions might include congenital defects, an overactive thyroid, lung disease, prior heart surgeries, heart attacks,
viral infections, stress due to pneumonia, surgery or illness, and exposure to stimulants such as caffeine and tobacco.
“When left untreated, patients have a five times higher chance of having a stroke and are at greater risk of heart failure,” Dr. Laws said.
Valley View’s Heart and Vascular Center can treat AFib through medication or ablations. An ablation is an outpatient procedure that can correct atrial fibrillation. Different types of ablations include radiofrequency ablation, cryoablation and/or laser ablation.
“The Heart & Vascular Center is the first center in Colorado to use laser ablation for the treatment of atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Laws said.
Valley View’s expanding heart care
The Heart and Vascular Center at Valley View is expanding with additional services and staff to meet the growing demand for cardiology services on the Western Slope, Dr. Laws said. New physicians include interventional cardiologist Dr. Qaisar Khan and minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgeons Dr. John Mehall and Dr. Patrick Rudersdorf.
“With the addition of these physicians and their unique skill sets, we have rolled out several new procedures, including the left atrial appendage clip, minimally invasive thoracotomies, complex atrial fibrillation ablations utilizing the convergent plus approach, and complex lower extremity venous ablations,” Dr. Laws said.
The hybrid cardiac catheterization lab also continues to push the scope of services offered by the Heart and Vascular Center. The Center has also recently been identified as a preferred site for the Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their bloodless protocols.
“With minimally invasive and bloodless procedures now becoming the standard of care,” Dr. Laws said, “we have the tools and staff necessary to treat the most complex of heart cases.”
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.