New Heart & Vascular Center will provide close-to-home care

COURTESY PHOTO Rendering of the new SCL Health St.Mary's Heart & Vascular Institute of Excellence, slated to open next year, will bring a range of expertise under one roof and in a location designed to provide maximum convenience and comfort to patients.

Currently, when hearts 'break,' the malfunctions can require a trip to Denver or Salt Lake City for specialized fixes. The same goes for arteries. Work on mending ailing hearts, has already begun at SCL Health St. Mary's Medical Center.

These repairs can include burning a bit of tissue inside the heart so it will no longer generate faulty electrical signals. They can mean placing artificial valves in aortas when blood is no longer flowing properly, or placing arterial grafts in abdomens to treat life-threatening bulges in the aorta.

In an effort to allow more patients to be treated for a wider range of cardiac and vascular problems on the Western Slope, SCL Health St. Mary's is creating a new space and building a new team of medical specialists who will be able to handle just about any of the latest procedures short of heart transplants.

This is the result of three years of planning by more than two dozen steering committee members from SCL Health St. Mary's and its sister hospital in Denver, SCL Health St. Joseph's. The effort is now visible to the public in the construction underway on the west side of the hospital. The cranes and construction activity are the bricks-and-mortar reality of what started out as wish-list items on a board in 2015: build a hybrid operating room, build a modern cardiac center, start a vascular clinic and recruit new vascular surgeons.

The $49 million Heart & Vascular Institute of Excellence, slated to open next year, will bring a range of expertise under one roof and in a location designed to provide maximum convenience and comfort to patients.

"This is significant in terms of patient comfort," said Dr. Will Anderson, the heart and vascular system medical director for the ten hospitals in the SCL Health network. "The biggest message to me is that SCL Health St. Mary's are really trying to partner with patients so we can offer appropriate treatments in Grand Junction, rather than patients having to travel long distances."

The Heart & Vascular Institute at SCL Health St. Mary's will encompass more than what will fit into the 26,500- square foot addition.

A hybrid operating room – a room much larger than standard operating rooms to accommodate a larger team of medical specialists and a collection of big screens for viewing minimally invasive procedures -- is a 4,000-sq-ft part of the centers located adjacent to the existing hospital.

Work on mending ailing hearts has already begun there. Twenty state-of-the-art heart procedures, known as TAVIs, have already been successfully completed. TAVI, short for transcatheter aortic valve implantation, involves putting a replacement valve in the aorta without having to do the open-heart surgery to remove a patient's damaged valve. With TAVI, a bovine-tissue valve is threaded into the heart, most often through an artery in the leg.

Dr. Anderson, a specialist in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology, has been teaching and observing these TAVI procedures for ten months at SCL Health St. Mary's. He will continue proctoring other new procedures at SCL Health St. Mary's as the new institute comes on line.

Cardiac ablations are one of the important new procedures that will be done at the new institute. Ablations involve threading a catheter with an electrode into the heart to burn a part of a heart's circuitry that is causing that organ to misfire and produce irregular beats.

Besides these interventional cardiac procedures, the institute will offer the latest in vascular procedures. Surgeons with the Vascular Institute of the Rockies have already been doing those procedures at SCL Health St. Mary's. They involve threading stents into weakened and damaged arteries to place what is called a fenestrated graft – a custom-sized tissue graft that strengthens damaged aortas. Two new vascular surgeons have been recruited to SCL Health St. Mary's to perform comprehensive vascular procedures, including the fenestrated grafts. Surgeons with the Vascular Institute of the Rockies also will continue to be a part of the SCL Health St. Mary's institute.

Along with the new heart and vascular procedures taking place in the hybrid operating room, the new institute will bring many other heart and vascular services conveniently together under one roof.

Diagnostic nuclear medicine and catheter labs will be moved into the center. The catheter lab, where imaging equipment is used to visualize arteries and chambers of the heart and to treat abnormalities, will more than double in size in the new addition. There will be a gym-type space for cardiac rehabilitation, a unit dedicated to interventional care for hearts and blood vessels, and classrooms for both patients and medical professionals.

A recovery unit planned for the institute will give SCL Health St. Mary's an only-one-in-Colorado distinction. The unit, known as a radial lounge, is a space where patients who have had procedures that involve threading catheters into an artery in the wrist, can recover without being confined to a hospital bed.

The six-person lounge will include televisions and spaces and plug-ins for computers. The atmosphere will be conducive to letting patients talk and recover together as they spend several hours waiting while their wrist wounds are checked.

"We are approaching this as a space for a well person who has come in for a day-procedure," explained Michael Herrick, the director of cardiovascular services at SCL Health St. Mary's who is overseeing the development of the new institute.

The lounge and the entire institute will incorporate as much natural light as possible. It will have bright art work and stained glass created by local artists. Herrick said the welcoming and modern nature of the bricks and mortar will only enhance the expanded medical expertise that is at the heart of the institute.

"The broadest-based cardiac and vascular-based expertise between Salt Lake City and Denver will be here," Herrick said.

Dr. Anderson said he believes the institute, in both the physical space and the services offered, will be sending a comforting message to Western Slope residents needing heart and vascular procedures.

"A lot of these patients will no longer have to travel. We will have the resources in Grand Junction to do a variety of procedures. This is significant in terms of patient comfort."

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