Last updated: August 28. 2013 6:07PM - 587 Views
Amy Avery Special to the Daily Journal

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Because of actions 20 years ago this August, Sandhills residents were among the first in the state to have access to a then-new technology to prevent heart attack and stroke.

Immediately after the FDA approved the use of artery-opening stents in 1993, area health leaders quickly took steps to bring that technology across the country from its roots in California to what is now FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst.

Previously, patients who had procedures to open clogged arteries in the heart had few if any choices to prevent the arteries from closing again over time. Stents are small tubes a physician permanently inserts into clogged arteries to open them up, allowing blood to flow. With FDA approval, they became a revolutionary treatment for blocked arteries.

The treatment was especially needed in North Carolina, part of the so-called “stroke belt,” because of the high number of people with heart disease. As with many medical advancements, stent programs first arrived at academic medical centers as opposed to community hospitals.

“Building on our established heart program, we were one of the first community hospitals in the state to offer stents,” said John F. Krahnert Jr., M.D., FirstHealth’s chief medical officer and the heart surgeon who started Moore Regional’s open-heart surgery program more than 20 years ago.

“It was a bold move to bring such new technology here, but it was a move supported by research and data.”

According to Peter L. Duffy, M.D., a cardiologist and associate director of quality, FirstHealth Cardiology Services, FirstHealth has always been quick to adopt new technologies like stents.

“We always want to be on the forefront of exciting treatments like this,” Dr. Duffy said. “It’s part of our goal to be the best community hospital in the country.”

In bringing this new treatment to the region, community health care leaders recruited Scott J. Denardo, M.D., one of the relatively few physicians with experience in the procedure. Dr. Denardo had been trained in California, where the initial stent research and trials were completed. Although he left FirstHealth several years ago, the program he started has flourished in the hands of other specially trained interventional cardiologists.

“It was courageous of him to come here to a community hospital to start such a cutting-edge program,” Dr. Krahnert said. “But he had the personality, brains and technical expertise to make it successful.”

With the support of other specialists, Dr. Denardo prepared the facilities and staff for the first stent placement at Moore Regional. The procedure took five hours and successfully treated a heart blockage in a woman in her 60s.

Today, physicians at Reid Heart Center, on the campus of Moore Regional, perform most stent placements in about 90 minutes. On-going advancements in both materials and procedures also allow physicians to treat many more patients with stents, thereby avoiding open-heart surgery.

Since some people are not able to have open-heart surgery, that fact alone increases overall life expectancy. In addition, physicians have many more choices of stents, so they can pair the right stent with each patient.

Since that first procedure 20 years ago, FirstHealth teams have placed more than 10,000 stents and increased the life expectancy of area residents by years.

“Even today, stents continue to revolutionize the care of heart patients,” Dr. Krahnert said. “It was incredibly visionary of the entire hospital and medical community to seek out this innovation. But, in looking at the specialists and facilities here today, including the Reid Heart Center, it’s clear that seeking innovation is part of FirstHealth’s commitment to the community.”

For more information about Reid Heart Center or heart care services provided by FirstHealth of the Carolinas, call 800-213-3284.

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