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Healthy Heart, Healthy Living

Donald Kerr

Donald Kerr maintains an active lifestyle thanks to the intervention of physicians at the Yale New Haven Health Heart and Vascular Center.

“I was walking home from the train and feeling really exhausted,” said Donald Kerr, recalling an otherwise routine commute in 2014 from his office in Manhattan to his home in Westchester County.

Within hours, he was being evaluated by doctors at Greenwich Hospital. Two days later, he was undergoing triple bypass surgery at Yale New Haven Hospital.

“They saved my life,” said Kerr, who today is heart-healthy and enjoying golf and tennis.

Kerr, 74, had experienced increasing fatigue for about three months. His wife was out of town on business that fateful evening. When a friend called, Kerr mentioned he was having chest pains. Shortly after that call, he was on his way to Greenwich Hospital’s Emergency Department. “I just knew something was wrong with my body,” Kerr said.

After an examination, the physicians ordered blood tests. Kerr told them he was fit and active, and didn’t have any previous heart issues or family history of cardiovascular disease. They called Maria Pavlis, MD, a cardiologist at the hospital, who recommended Kerr be admitted. “After he told me his story, I immediately suggested he have a coronary angiogram at Greenwich Hospital,” Dr. Pavlis said.

Also known as a cardiac catheterization, the test is an X-ray of the heart and its arteries. Kerr’s angiogram revealed plaque blocking his arteries, and he was immediately transported by ambulance to Yale New Haven Hospital, where triple bypass surgery was successfully performed.

New center, expanded services

Maria Pavlis, MD, Cardiologist

Cardiologist Maria Pavlis, MD, collaborates with Yale Medicine colleagues to develop the the most effective cardiovascular care plan for each patient.

Kerr’s case exemplifies the types of cardiovascular services that have been available at Greenwich Hospital for years. And now with the opening of the new Yale New Haven Health Heart and Vascular Center at 500 West Putnam Ave. in Greenwich, Greenwich Hospital has significantly expanded the scope of its cardiovascular services, all provided by Yale Medicine specialists.

Located on the third floor, the center brings together a wide range of cardiovascular physicians and specialties, making it convenient for patients to receive high-quality preventive, diagnostic and treatment services. Patients can consult with general cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, electrophysiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons and other cardiovascular physicians who specialize in women’s cardiac health, heart valve replacement and vascular issues such as peripheral artery disease.

Diagnostic tests available for adults and children at the new facility include echocardiogram, nuclear imaging, vascular imaging, stress tests and other studies.

Minimally invasive procedures are performed at Greenwich Hospital, while major cardiovascular surgeries are performed at Yale New Haven Hospital. Patients return to Greenwich for post-operative services and cardiac rehabilitation.

“In this new and bigger space, we can provide even more inpatient and outpatient services to the Greenwich and lower Fairfield communities,” said Christopher Howes, MD, chief of Cardiology at Greenwich Hospital and director of the center. “Most important, there is greater local availability of Yale Medicine cardiovascular specialists from New Haven,” he said, in addition to the community physicians who have already been treating patients in the area.

Keith Churchwell, MD, senior vice president and executive director of cardiovascular services for Yale New Haven Health, expects the need for cardiovascular services to increase as people live longer. Heart disease – the leading cause of death for both men and women – is responsible for one in every four deaths in America.

“Patients can now leverage our world-class expertise in cardiovascular care,” said Dr. Churchwell. “We want to focus on preventive strategies to decrease the overall incidence of cardiovascular disease, in addition to enhancing services. Our goal is to create a high-quality cardiovascular referral center for the region, providing patients with a seamless care plan so they can be as heart-healthy as possible.”

Cardiac Rehabilitation: Promoting Heart Health

Kelly Herzog, exercise physiologist

Kelly Herzog, an exercise physiologist, assists patients during a monitored exercise session at Greenwich Hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation program.

Cardiac rehabilitation can help individuals who are recovering from a heart attack or an interventional procedure such as angioplasty to improve their cardiovascular function and overall sense of well-being.

Located adjacent to the Yale New Haven Health Heart and Vascular Center at 500 West Putnam Ave. in Greenwich, Greenwich Hospital’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program uses a mind/body approach that takes a patient’s physical and emotional health into account.

Depending on the diagnosis, patients can take part in monitored exercise, diet and nutritional counseling, and information sessions on stress management, smoking cessation, medication management and more.

“The program helps patients understand their limits and how to progress safely with intensity and duration of workouts,” said Thomas Milucci, DPT, director of Physical Medicine at Greenwich Hospital. The team includes exercise physiologists and nurses who work together to create an individualized plan for each patient.

Patients may benefit from cardiac rehabilitation following a heart attack, angioplasty, cardiac bypass, heart valve repair/replacement or heart failure. “People learn how to get their bodies moving in ways that promote heart health,” said Milucci.

Staying proactive

A nuclear cardiac stress test uses radioactive dye and an imaging machine to create pictures showing areas with poor blood flow or damage to the heart. The test usually involves injecting the dye, then taking two sets of images of your heart – one while you’re at rest and another after exertion.

Dr. Pavlis recommends seeing a cardiologist who will work in consultation with your primary care physician to help define your cardiovascular status and risk at some point – men in their forties, women as they approach menopause, and earlier for those with a family history of heart disease. “Everyone should be proactive about their cardiovascular health,” she said. “A cardiologist can determine your 10-year cardiovascular risk for developing heart disease.”

Patients with cardiovascular disease have many more treatment options today, including minimally invasive procedures for conditions that once required major surgery, Dr. Pavlis explained. For example, some heart valves can be replaced or repaired using miniscule incisions and instruments rather than open-chest surgery. In some cases, irregular heart rhythms can be treated with ablation, a procedure that uses radiofrequency energy to correct abnormal electrical signals.

Among the new enhanced services is an electrophysiology program featuring consultation around complex disturbances in heart rhythm (arrhythmia). “The ultimate goal is to bring treatment for this condition to the new center instead of patients traveling to New Haven,” said Dr. Churchwell. The center also expanded treatment for serious congestive heart failure disease. “We’re offering more aggressive outpatient therapy aimed at decreasing hospitalizations and improving quality of life,” he said.

The Heart and Vascular Center continues Greenwich Hospital’s ongoing emphasis on women’s cardiovascular health, an increasingly important critical subspecialty, said Dr. Pavlis. Unlike men, women are more likely to experience symptoms of shortness of breath with activities as opposed to chest pressure. Dr. Pavlis collaborates with other cardiologists, including Yale Medicine women’s health specialists who come to Greenwich from New Haven weekly, as well as a registered dietitian and exercise physiologists.

As for Kerr, he sees Dr. Pavlis for an annual checkup. Aside from adding a medication regimen of baby aspirin, the beta blocker atenolol and rosuvastatin to keep his cholesterol in check, he continues his daily commute to Manhattan and maintains an active lifestyle.

“Everything is working,” Kerr said, “and I’m in good shape.”