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Valley View pumps up cardiac care

Donna Gray
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
Interventional cardiologist Dr. Frank Laws heads up the Valley View Hospital cardiac catheterization lab.
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” For most people in rural western Colorado, the prospect of having a heart attack is a scary thought. Hospitals in the region, while offering quality care, are singularly unequipped to take care of heart attack patients other than transferring them to hospitals with cardiac units. The time it takes to get a critically ill patient to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction or Denver can often be a matter of life or death.

“We say time is muscle,” said Kim Kramer, director of the cardiac catheterization lab at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. The more time it takes to treat a heart attack the more damage occurs to heart muscle. Damage can severely impair the heart’s ability to function properly.

That scenario has changed since Valley View Hospital’s cardiac catheterization lab opened in January.

“It’s as high tech as you can get,” Kramer said, with state-of-the-art imaging equipment including the Volcano Therapeutics Intravascular Ultra Sound machine, only one of three in the country and seven in the world.

While not equipped to perform cardiac heart surgery, the staff can perform procedures that can deal with the majority of problems caused by heart disease.

By far the most common procedure is catheterization to detect blood vessel blockage and treatment with a stent, a metal tube that acts as a scaffold to unblock and hold open an artery to allow blood to flow freely.

Heart disease treatment has changed radically in the last decade, said interventional cardiologist Dr. Frank Laws, who heads up the cath lab team. Previously, 70 percent of cardiac procedures were bypass surgeries. Now, with vastly improved imaging and catheterization, stents account for 80 to 90 percent, he said.

Valley View’s cardiac cath lab offers a range of treatment.

“We want to be a one-stop shop where we will offer everything but cardiac surgery in a safe environment, and where patients can have decent outcomes,” Laws said.

The cath lab team can also implant pacemakers, defibrillators and biventricular pacemakers to treat advanced heart failure, Kramer said. With its array of imaging equipment, “we can diagnose arterial disease in any part of the body.”

The team of Laws, Kramer and cath lab manager Joe Bower also have a special bond. All three practiced together at Hermann Hospital at the University of Texas in Houston.

In 2004, Dr. Carlos Albrecht, a former cardiologist at Valley View, who also practiced with the trio in Texas, approached Kramer and Laws with a proposal to come as a team to Glenwood Springs to open a new cath lab.

Kramer visited Valley View at Albrecht’s invitation. “I saw a huge need for it,” she said.

Laws, who was in Keystone for a medical meeting in June 2005, also paid a visit to Valley View. After a short tour of the hospital’s new building, “I got very interested” and soon became involved in planning for the cath lab.

On Jan. 18, 2007, the center admitted its first patient. On Feb. 22, the team performed their first emergency intervention, on Rifle Mayor Keith Lambert.

“We operate pretty much as we did in Houston. Being friends, we anticipate each other’s needs,” Kramer said of the close bond the team shares.

With the opening of the lab, the team’s challenge now is to get the word out that they are ready to treat heart patients. The community “has the mindset that if something complex has to be done, they would have to travel to Grand Junction or Denver,” Laws said. That no longer holds true.

“A few months ago, if you had a (severe) heart attack (here), you wouldn’t survive. Now you have a good chance you will survive,” he said.


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