By Kyle LoJacono
ZEPHYRHILLS — Florida Hospital Zephyrhills Heart Institute recently received the highest rating for heart disease treatment in the Tampa Bay area.
The award, Excellence in Coronary Intervention, was given to honor the institute for exceeding HealthGrade standards for cardiac disease treatment.
“The reason we opened the center in January 2006 was we listened to what the Zephyrhills and surrounding community wanted,” said Gwen Alonso, director for the institute. “The process to open the Heart Institute began before I started working here six years ago because in the past we had to send people down to Tampa if they had a heart problem.”
Alonso has lived in Wesley Chapel for 11 years.
“Before the institute opened, heart patients had to leave the comfort of their community here in Zephyrhills,” she continued. “The trip was really long for patients and time is very important when dealing with heart problems.”
Lyn Acer, hospital spokeswoman, agrees with Alonso.
“Our Heart Institute provides care to adults suffering from cardiac or cardiovascular disease,” she said. “We are constantly looking at ways to improve the services we provide and to ensure we are providing our patients with most comprehensive care.”
The institute also received national accreditation from the Society of Chest Pain Centers in April 2009 for its speedy treatment of people with heart problems. It is the only hospital in east Pasco County with such accreditation.
“Every minute counts when it comes to heart disease, and we make sure patients get care within 90 minutes of the problem starting,” Alonso said. “We have to work with (Emergency Medical Services) in the field so they recognize heart problems fast and get them to the Heart Institute quickly. So it takes a focused effort from our employees and outside groups to get the fastest treatment possible.”
The award coincides with National Heart Disease Awareness Month, which is each February. In order to spread the word about heart disease, Zephyrhills Mayor Cliff McDuffie has declared Feb. 7 to 14 as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week in the city.
“This is the kind of thing people need to know about and it doesn’t cost the city anything to do,” McDuffie said. “This is the second year we’ve done this and I think it helps get the word out about the disease to the public.”
McDuffie’s father, Cliff McDuffie Sr., died of a massive heart attack at the age of 37.
“That really scared me about heart disease, but it turned out to not be genetic in any way,” he said. “It was a long time ago, but I still try to get the word out about heart disease when I can.”
Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect in the United States, according to the American Heart Association, which states nine of every 1,000 babies are born with such a defect.
The Heart Institute does not treat children, but adults with congenital defects can be treated there.
“We usually send children with congenital defects to Tampa, but we can treat almost any other heart problem here,” Alonso said. “Last year we treated 2,500 patients in the Heart Institute. Of those, 800 had to have a balloon inserted to clean out a blocked artery, and 128 had open-heart surgery.”
The Heart Institute is having a four-month cardiac lecture series, which started in January. Dr. Katual Chauhan will be giving a free lecture about diabetes and high blood pressure from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 9 at the hospital’s Wellness Center.
“The Heart Institute has saved a number of lives here because people can go to the hospital in their own city,” McDuffie said. “In the past, that long trip down to Tampa was too long for people and many died getting there. The center is very important for our population.”