“Time is muscle” is the motto of Richard Howard Jr., MD, director of the new Interventional Cardiology Program at Wellspan Gettysburg Hospital’s Heart Center.
The new cardiac catheterization laboratory, open since Sept. 4, has already served many patients, and perhaps saving the lives of some.
Prior to the opening of the new lab, patients who were having heart attacks caused by blocked coronary arteries were sent by ambulance or helicopter to Hanover or York hospital, a rerouting that took time and potentially cost vital heart muscle.
Now patients’ blocked arteries can be opened right here in Gettysburg, and most patients receive catheterization within 90 minutes of their arrival at the hospital.
The goal is to “keep it local,” said Alison Arrowood, nursing operations director at the hospital. Treating patients nearer home not only makes sense from an immediate emergency perspective, but also lessens the hardship on the family, who no longer must travel to remote locations to be with their loved ones, she said.
The new lab is “a big gain for the patients because they can get care in their own town,” said Howard.
Before the new lab opened, Gettysburg Hospital could take images of blocked arteries but could not repair them. The new lab can “fix blockages in arteries,” said Howard.
The lab is certified by the state as a STEMI (ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction) lab in which cardiac catheterization can be performed without the presence of a cardiac surgeon.
“I’ve seen the impacts that it has on the community,” said Howard. “You don’t have to get flown anywhere, which is stressful.”
The cardiac catheterization team members have been trained to handle cardiac emergencies and have dedicated themselves to be on call as the need arises.
Upon arrival at the hospital, within minutes the patient receives an electrocardiography (EKG) scan, and if catheterization is necessary a pager will call Dr. Howard and the team to the hospital. The patient is then quickly taken to the catheterization lab, ready for the procedure.
The new $2 million lab was funded by Gettysburg Wellspan and donations from the Gettysburg Hospital Foundation.
“We are privileged to have a program that can save people’s lives,” said Howard.
Gettysburg still does not have a cardiac surgery unit. People who need those services must travel to Wellspan York Hospital or elsewhere.
Bethany Lavin, cardiovascular clinical coordinator and team member, pointed out the new heart lab not only serves local residents, but also is available to the millions of tourists who visit every year.
Will Lavery, hospital public relations manager, said the hospital has traditionally had cardiac diagnostic and testing procedures and the new emergency lab “completes the circle.”
The new lab has brought Dr. Howard to the area from his prior position in South Dakota, and has added some new positions at the hospital.
The cardiac catheterization team said if a person feels the classic “elephant sitting on your chest” or other symptoms such as shoulder or jaw pain or shortness of breath, you may be experiencing a heart attack.
“Call an ambulance immediately” the healthcare experts said, noting one-half of heart attack patients never make it to the hospital.