National American Heart Month arrives this year amid a global pandemic that has dominated not just healthcare but the life of the nation and its people.
Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the United States, with one person dying every 37 seconds, and nearly half of all Americans reporting they have at least one of three key risk factors — high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. In the past year, COVID-19 has emerged as a huge complicating factor in the fight against heart disease.
"COVID-19 has profoundly affected people’s lives and health and required unprecedented actions to fight it," said Paul Stefanacci, MD, FACS, MBA, Chief Medical Officer for the UHS Acute Care Division. "While it’s important to avoid behaviors that can spread COVID-19, it’s critical that people don’t ignore the symptoms and engage with their healthcare providers to identify and treat heart disease, to lower the risk of serious complications and even death. This will ultimately increase knowledge and awareness of heart disease and its contributing factors."
The decision to defer treatment, even when confronted with serious medical issues, has led to avoidable deaths and serious complications. UHS has taken comprehensive action to limit the possibility of COVID-19 spread in its hospitals and facilities, including limited visitation, the separation of COVID patients from the general patient population, extensive cleaning, masking and social distancing protocols. Its hospitals stand ready to care for people with heart disease when they need it most.
"COVID-19 and heart disease isn’t an either/or issue," said Dr. Stefanacci. "We need to do what we can to limit both."
Making a Difference
Tom James, 65, was struggling to even walk up the staircase in his California home last spring, and his wife of 45 years, Laurie, was convinced he needed a heart procedure, but COVID concerns kept him in his home. It took a call from Tom’s cardiologist to convince him to go to California’s Temecula Valley Hospital. Tom finally agreed. He couldn’t believe how safe the hospital was when he arrived. It was clean, the team was confident and professional, and it was nothing like what he had imagined during a pandemic. "The team was amazing, everything was absolutely wonderful," he says. A blockage was cleared and Tom went home with a new lease on life. "I am so glad I finally went into Temecula Valley Hospital," he says. "Before my surgery, I was thinking every day was my last. Temecula Valley Hospital saved my life!"
Even in a pandemic, programs like cardiac rehabilitation are an important component in getting people back to the life they wish to lead. Larry LeCrone had been feeling tired and knew something was off, but it wasn't until "a horrible pain hit" that he agreed to go to St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, in Enid, Oklahoma, to get his symptoms checked out. The decision likely saved his life. "I wound up with a triple bypass," he says. Afterward, he was happy to learn that St. Mary's has a cardiac rehabilitation program for patients like him who need specialized care after a cardiac event. "It's like you get a do-over with life," he says of the turnaround he made at St. Mary's. "They got me motivated. They got me to make some changes. They got me exercising. They're a great bunch."