New technologies change heart procedures in northern Colorado hospitals |

New technologies change heart procedures in northern Colorado hospitals

The Watchman is a small, umbrella-like device that prevents clots for people with non-valvular atrial fibrillation. In 2016, heart specialists at UCHealth's Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland and University of Colorado Hospital were the first in Colorado to implant the Watchman, a small, umbrella-like device that prevents clots for people with non-valvular atrial fibrillation.
Kelly Tracer/For UCHealth |

Sage advice on cardiac health

Susan Bush, cardiac rehabilitation supervisor at North Colorado Medical Center, offers advice on heart care. It’s better, she said, to prevent a problem than to fix it.

» Exercise

Any kind of physical activity will do, as long as it gets you moving. She recommends getting the whole family out and about, whether it’s a trip to the gym or a walk around the neighborhood.

» Nutrition

Eat a diet with low saturated fat and high fiber. Keep the majority of your plate full of fresh fruits and vegetables, eat more whole grains and eat less meat and diary products Bush said.

» Be aware

Make sure you get regular physicals. If you know where you’re at with your health, you can work to improve it sooner rather than later. Checking cholesterol levels periodically and being aware of your own risk factors could save you surgery down the line.

Diabetes is another risk factor. Doctors almost assume heart disease will be an issue if you have diabetes, Bush said. If you have it, ask what you can do to protect your heart.

» Don’t smoke

Smoking is a factor of heart disease. Too much alcohol can be problematic as well.

Heart procedures are changing in northern Colorado hospitals. With ever-improving technology, patients benefit from less-invasive procedures and new ways to solve problems. Less-invasive procedures make for fewer complications, shorter lengths of stay in hospitals and similar or better outcomes compared to traditional treatments.

Brad Oldemeyer, a cardiologist at UCHealth’s Heart Center in Fort Collins, said 2016 was an exciting year for cardiology.

“Rapid changes in technology in cardiovascular care continue to improve lives in the long run,” Oldemeyer said.

Patients now have more options, especially if they are high-risk patients who can’t undergo major surgery.

Transcatheter mitral valve repair, for example, is a procedure that repairs valves. It helps patients who aren’t able to have open-heart surgery. It is similar to the edge-to-edge valve repair. Valves are clipped rather than sutured together.

“It can be offered to patients with diseases that make open-heart surgery unavailable to them,” Oldemeyer said. “With a catheter, it’s much less invasive.”

Oldemeyer specializes in structural heart procedures, like transcatheter aortic valve replacement. By using a catheter for the procedure instead of resorting to open-heart surgery, more people have access to treatment and have to spend less time in the hospital.

Anyone suffering new cardiology symptoms like shortness of breath, swelling of the legs or atrial fibrillation could benefit by going to a structural heart clinic, Oldemeyer said. They’d meet with a physician in the clinic, get tested and get recommendations for treatment.

Historically, UCHealth saw maybe 20 cases per year. Now, it sees more than 200.

“There was no clinic five years ago,” Oldemeyer said. “It’s grown since then.”

North Colorado Medical Center opened its Structural Heart Clinic in 2016 and brought on cardiologists to take on these new procedures.

“We’re able to offer more to those high-risk patients and even medium-risk patients,” said Dawn Olson, outreach program coordinator with the CardioVascular Institute of North Colorado.

Olson said Banner soon will offer a new procedure for heart failure patients called CardioMEMS. It’s a device implanted in the heart to measure pressure. When people start to have heart failure, pressure in your heart goes up before you have symptoms.

“Patients will be at home and they’ll be able to transmit those pressures to us at NCMC,” Olson said. “We will be able to tell if everything is status quo or if we have to start taking action.”

The whole goal, she said, is to keep patients out of the hospital.

Wireless pacemakers

Electrophysiologists now use wireless pacemakers, Oldemeyer said. In the past, folks would use a generator that went under the collarbone and a lead or wire to connect.

“Now, we can just put a pacemaker in the heart,” Oldemeyer said.

Patients like that there’s less hardware, he said.

The Watchman

In November, the Food and Drug Administration approved a device called a Watchman. It’s a small, umbrella-like device. It’s designed to plug a patent foramen ovale, which is a small hole between the right and left atrium. It’s a common congenital heart defect that causes strokes. The device, which is a titanium plug, will help reduce the risk of stroke for those patients.

Before, patients had to use long-term medication or surgery, which Oldemeyer said was limited and questionably effective.

Dissolving stent

An interventional cardiologist implanted a dissolvable stent into a Colorado man’s artery. It was the first dissolvable stent implanted in a person in Colorado since the FDA approved the device in July.

Cardiologists implant the stent using a catheter to slide a tiny balloon through the artery. They inflate the balloon to crack open the plaque obstructing blood flow. They deploy the stent and use more balloons to ensure it’s properly placed.

The stent then dissolves when it’s no longer needed. It’s like a cast on a broken arm.

Once a patient has a stent, they have to take aspirin — a common blood thinner — every day for the rest of their lives. So, if 10 years down the road the patient has knee surgery, they cannot miss a dose of aspirin without risk of clotting.

Preventative Cardiology

There is a new injection that helps patients lower their cholesterol, Oldemeyer said. PCSK9 inhibitors reduce the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream. Patients can give it to themselves twice per month to manage their cholesterol levels.

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