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December 18, 2012
Second opinion leads to first-class heart care
When Stefan Jewusiak was 41, he moved from Poland to the United States with his wife and two young daughters. At 42, he suffered his first heart attack. Over the next several years he had two more heart attacks and developed an arrhythmia (irregular heart beat) in his left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber. This life-threatening condition is called ventricular tachycardia, or VT.
Unhappy with the care he had received elsewhere and concerned about his worsening condition, Stefan came to Loyola for a second opinion.
“Stefan was a relatively young man with complex, advanced heart disease,” said Jeffrey Winterfield, MD, a Loyola cardiologist who specializes in heart arrhythmias. “He already had an implanted defibrillator to shock his heart into beating normally. A very high number of shocks kept Stefan alive, but the quality of his life had become quite poor. We were confident we could help him.”
Loyola’s Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine is world renowned for its ability to treat complex arrhythmias, heart failure and related cardiovascular illnesses. In U.S. News & World Report®’s highly regarded Best Hospitals 2012 - 2013, Loyola University Medical Center ranked 18th in the nation in cardiology and heart surgery, two spots higher than last year. This is the 10th year in a row that Loyola’s heart program has been listed in this prestigious national ranking.
Many VT patients who come to Loyola have had one or more heart attacks, often years earlier. By the time they arrive on our Maywood campus, they have accumulated numerous living scars that Dr. Winterfield describes as “little bundles” of heart muscle.
These living scars can create electrical circuits that cause arrhythmias. If Stefan had not had a procedure to stop his VT, his heart likely would have become so weak that only a heart transplant could have kept him alive.
“We are known worldwide for our heart transplant program, but we do everything we can to help patients avoid transplantation,” said Alain Heroux, MD, medical director of Loyola’s Heart Failure and Heart Transplantation programs. “It’s one reason why our team of experts, representing every discipline in heart care, meets weekly to review cases and develop
personalized treatment plans. Studies have shown that when a patient like Stefan is in an advanced heart failure program, such as the one at Loyola, it increases his chances for survival and an improved quality of life.”
The challenge facing the Heart Failure program team was clear: How do we stop the VT before it ends Stefan’s life prematurely? Their solution involved Loyola’s sophisticated, three-dimensional mapping system. Serving as a GPS for the heart, it identifies the precise locations of those little bundles of heart muscle and helps the electrophysiology (EP) physician guide a catheter (thin tube) to the exact spots causing the problems in the left ventricle.
Dr. Winterfield used the tip of the catheter to burn away living scar tissue, disrupting the electrical circuits that were causing the VT. He also implanted a highly advanced device that keeps Stefan’s heart beating properly.
“Everything went exactly as planned,”
Dr. Winterfield said, recalling the February 2012 procedures. “In just a few days, Stefan’s heart was getting healthier and doing a better job of pumping his blood.”
Loyola researchers participated in many of the clinical trials that pioneered cardiac ablation for VT and atrial fibrillation patients. Today, Loyola has one of the highest-volume programs in the Midwest. Its five EP physicians perform approximately 500 ablations per year.
Stefan says he’s enjoying life again. He likes riding bicycles with his wife, Ursula, gardening at their home and spending time with his daughters.
“Ursula and I are very, very pleased,” Stefan said. “Everyone at Loyola was really skilled and caring. You can feel how much they want to help.”
For more information, visit LoyolaMedicine.org/heart, or to schedule an appointment with a Loyola physician, call (888) LUHS-888 (888-584-7888).
Loyola Teaches Patients How to Protect Their Hearts
Modern medicine has identified ways to help patients avoid heart attacks, cardiac procedures and open-heart surgeries. There are steps healthy people can take to prevent heart disease, or at least effectively manage existing conditions. Had Stefan Jewusiak come to Loyola when he was in his 40s, he might never have reached the point where doctors were considering him for a heart transplant.
Today, Stefan is rightfully focused on the future. His desire for better health led him to meet with Binh An Phan, MD, assistant professor, medicine, cardiology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Dr. Phan leads the Preventive Cardiology and Lipid Program at Loyola University Medical Center.
“Our tests and recommendations are tailored to each individual’s needs and risks,” Dr. Phan said. “We take detailed family histories, conduct specialized blood work and perform advanced, non-invasive imaging to determine how they can prevent heart disease in the future. Some people need to improve their nutrition and get more exercise, while others have to stop smoking and take medications.” Stefan has seen Dr. Phan and his team twice during 2012, meetings that have made a difference in Stefan’s life. “Dr. Phan helped me understand why I had to eat better and get more exercise. He gave me suggestions for how I can do these things for myself. We’re all very happy with the results,” Stefan said.
“Prevention of heart disease is our main goal, which we achieve by identifying individual risk factors and working with patients to lower those risks,” explained Dr. Phan. “For relatively healthy patients, we usually start with lifestyle changes since they are the easiest to implement. Yet we also help people with advanced heart disease, like Mr. Jewusiak, understand that preventive medicine might be able to help them lead a longer and happier life.”