Ron Petrunak remembers the wonder he experienced the first time he watched a heart catheterization in 1984.
He said he still feels that “wow factor” as he watches the doctors and staff at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center moving forward in heart care.
"The advances have been phenomenal," said Petrunak, manager of the hospital's cardiac catheterization lab and electrophysiology lab.
In the past several years, staff and physicians at the cardiac cath lab have completely taken over the outpatient function for patients, meaning that procedures are all done in one location. Over the next few months, the same will happen to the hospital’s electrophysiology lab.
“Our patients like coming to one place,” Petrunak said. “We take care of them the whole way through their care.”
Because hospital staff and physicians have received so much positive feedback, they decided to extend the idea to the EP lab.
“We are at the point now (with the cath lab) that patients can go home two hours after a procedure,” Petrunak added.
The hospital first expanded their capacity to hold cath lab patients in 2009 and the momentum has grown from there. In addition to working towards expanding the EP lab to cover all outpatient functions, the hospital also is preparing to offer a new treatment using radio-frequency and cryoablation, or cold therapy, to essentially freeze an area of the heart that is causing too many heartbeats.
“I would put our cath lab staff up against any in the country,” Petrunak said. “We have the best. What I always tell people is that, if at this moment I fell over with a heart attack, I wouldn’t care what doctor, what tech responded. Everyone is great. We have an amazing group of people.”
Hospital administration also has been very supportive in helping grow the cath and EP labs, he added.
Community outreach also has grown, thanks to the fundraising efforts within the hospital.
Michelle George, cardiac rehab and prevention program manager, said that members of the hospital’s heart month committee have been drumming up support and getting creative to raise money for local cardiac patients. They have been selling die-cut T-shirt shapes for $1 each as part of the “I am every patient” campaign. Those have been sold throughout the health system’s facilities. They also have been selling red apparel and accessories to raise funds.
“What’s really nice is that all of this is going to local patients, not to a national organization,” George said.
Working with staff at the Conemaugh Health Foundation, they have been able to obtain grants from Edwards Lifesciences to start screening for heart health in the community — at no cost to participants.
“It’s something that insurance doesn’t usually cover,” George said. “We are to the point now where we are doing really comprehensive blood work.”
The community screenings began in 2000, she added.
“We looked at the other side of heart disease and really said, ‘What can we do to prevent it?’”
The screenings, which now can serve up to 500 people in the community annually, were the result.
George said the heart month committee also came up with a quirky, light-hearted new fundraiser this year, a Queen and King of Hearts contest. Different departments are nominating kings and queens. Votes cost $1, and the winning couple will be crowned at a Feb. 13 heart event. Again, the proceeds all go back to local cardiac patients.
“It’s a way employees can give back, too,” George said.