The doctor leaned in and described to Robert Hyde what he might feel during his medical procedure. Shortly thereafter, she made a small incision to his inner thigh area. During the half-hour process, the surgical team watched the large, live-view X-ray machine as the doctor guided a long, thin, flexible green tube though Hyde’s blood vessels until reaching the left side of his heart. She searched for the presence of problems with heart function that would prevent him from having corrective heart surgery.
Lt. Col. Maria Lahti, the 96th Medical Operations Squadron’s, chief cardiologist, performed the procedure marking the hospital’s newest capability – the cardiac catheterization. The invasive imaging procedure allows doctors to identify how well a patient’s blood flows to the artery that feeds the heart.
“Heart catheterizations help us determine the best treatment plan in the event of cardiac disease. We can see the extent of blockages in the coronary arteries; we can evaluate heart muscle function, valve diseases and diseases of the aorta,” said Lahti.
The process to bring these services here began eight years ago, but only became a reality in the last two and a half years. There was a large amount of necessary coordination with every department in the hospital, from emergent care to patient safety in order to ensure the processes were well designed.
“We needed to ensure we were 100 percent ready to provide this service in the event of an emergency,” she said.
The lab is the first of its kind in the Air Force. The cardiovascular suite is a hybrid catheterization lab and operating room that allows surgeons to transition from a cardiac catheterization to an open operation if necessary. If a cardiac study is needed before undergoing surgery, the suite provides the opportunity to do both without scheduling two separate operations.
“This capability provides our patients complete cardiac care within the military system. In addition, it also allows us to support critically ill patients who are hospitalized here for other reasons,” said Lahti.
The group’s medics also benefit by gaining experience in the management of critically ill patients.
Hyde said, he is now a believer in regular check-ups. While at a medical appointment, doctors heard an unusual “blip” in Hyde’s heart and referred him to the cardiac clinic. At the examination, he learned he had a serious enlargement of the aorta and heart-valve issues. He also learned he only had two valve flaps in his heart. Most people have three. Over time, this could have led to an enlargement of his heart.
“Without this discovery, I would have continued my fitness regimen and strenuous activities, greatly increasing the chances of rupturing my aorta due to high blood pressure or too much tissue expansion,” said the grateful patient, “They probably saved my life.”
Eglin’s cardiac catheterization lab plans to impact many more patients. The procedure is currently performed weekly, but will eventually be performed every day, as needed. The hospital expects approximately 300 cases a year. Specialty services in the cardiac clinic are available for active duty, dependents, and retired military.