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Teaching heart health at annual cardiac seminar

The Cardiology Department at Weiss brought together four of the hospital’s leading cardiac experts to reach out to the community through the 11th Annual Cardiac Rehab Educational Seminar. Those experts, from various areas of the hospital, spoke about the latest heart health updates at the event in late February.

Cardiac rehab director Lori Shepard addressed the audience of 60 community members and cardiac patients early on. “Thank you all for coming. We really appreciate you partnering with us to help us help you keep healthy.”

Khalid Malik, MD, took the stage first. As medical director of the Weiss emergency department, he spoke about heart attack warning signs and when potential patients should seek emergency care.

“The reason we emphasize that patients should seek help as soon as they can is because there’s a time limit,” he said, referring to a 60-minute golden hour. “The sooner you get to the hospital, the better off you are and the better the prognosis is going to be.”

He listed controllable and uncontrollable risk factors, including:

  • Smoking
  • Heredity
  • Age 
  • Stress
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity

Though there is commonality in the risk factors, symptoms differ greatly among men and women.

“There is no classical way to know,” Dr. Malik said. “In my 40 years, maybe a dozen people have told me there’s pressure like an elephant’s foot on the chest. Some people might have pain in the shoulder or pain in the arm.”

He told the story of a businessman in his early 30s visiting from India. The man experienced pain in his thumb whenever he walked. Despite knowing the potential risks, the man opted to return to India for a check up instead of in the United States. He passed away before he made it in. 

“Your job is to seek help. Let the experts decide what to do,” Dr. Malik stressed to the audience.

Females, he added, should be extra careful. They present very differently from men, and many assume their pain comes from stress. However, all of them say they feel weak, Dr. Malik said.

Common symptoms include:

  • Chest pressure, squeezing
  • Pain spreading to shoulders, arm, back, jaw or neck
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe indigestion
  • Sweating, weakness or fainting

“Do not deny your symptoms. Call 9-1-1,” Dr. Malik said. “Time is muscle. The longer you delay, the more muscle damage will occur. You need to seek help in a timely fashion so we can preserve the muscle, preserve the heart.”

Do not drive yourself or have a spouse drive you to the hospital, he added. Paramedics can start a base examination and an IV en route.

To decrease risk of a cardiac event, Dr. Malik said people need to stop smoking and treat high blood pressure and cholesterol. “I am personally extremely concerned. You’d be shocked to hear how many people are walking around with uncontrolled blood pressure.”

Exercise and weight management are vital as well. “You don’t need any fancy equipment. Brisk walking will do you more good than any of those materials on TV,” he said.

“Try to live a healthy lifestyle, and hope for the best. And if there’s one good thing you can do for yourself, take one baby aspirin a day.”

Vascular surgeon Darwin Eton, MD, took the stage after Dr. Malik and spoke about his cutting edge research in peripheral artery disease. Dr. Eton uses patients' own stem cells to treat limb ischemia, saving many patients from limb amputations. Since he began practice in 1990, he has operated on more than 15,000 patients.

Often, peripheral artery disease affects patients with diabetes and heart disease, as their decreased circulation disables their bodies’ ability to heal wounds in the extremities.

The solution? Boost the number of progenitor cells, which—similar to stem cells—differentiate into specific types of cells, in circulation. “We want to get [the cells] to the area where there’s an injury or lack of blood flow.” To do that, Dr. Eton puts a device around the outside of the patient’s leg that changes the cell signaling within the body.

“What we’re accomplishing is what the body can normally do, but we’re driving the process,” he explained. “We’re not curing the disease. We’re just trying to fool Mother Nature. If you have atherosclerosis, that’s still going to be there.”

Dr. Eton’s work so far has saved dozens of people from amputations, and he has high hopes for the future. “Stem cell therapy is going to change medicine altogether.”

Read part two of this blog post on Monday.

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