By Kyle LoJacono
Florida Hospital Zephyrhills opened its Heart Institute five years ago, paving the way for improved cardiac care in east Pasco County.
Gwen Alonso, associate vice president of cardiac services, said the institute’s first day was Feb. 14, 2006, and since then it has performed 10,188 heart procedures.
Alonso has been with the Heart Institute since it opened, allowing her to see the fledgling facility grow into what it is today.
“The beauty of this institute is we are a comprehensive program,” Alonso said. “The only thing we don’t do is heart transplants.”
Alonso said the institute hit the ground running when it opened.
“We made a conscience decision when we opened that the day we went live, everything went live,” Alonso said. “Heart surgery was available that first day, as well as our interventional cath lab. We had our first heart surgery two days after we went live.”
That isn’t to say things have not improved during the last five years. When the institute opened there was one catheterization lab versus the three today. The institute also started offering electrophysiology care in 2007.
Other additions include minimally invasive heart surgeries, radial caths that are easier on patients and several other therapies.
One of the first patients to have a radial cath was Betty Theademan. The Zephyrhills resident had a traditional cath, which goes in through the femoral artery in the groin, about 10 years ago.
“When I had it done the first time it was so uncomfortable,” Theademan said. “They put pressure on the area for six hours and I stayed overnight. This time they taped the area tight with some gauze and told me to take it easy for a couple days. … Two day later I took the gauze off and it was like it never happened.”
Another treatment added within the last year is external counterpulsation (ECP). The therapy includes strapping a machine to a patient’s legs and inflates and deflates like a heartbeat. This brings more blood to the heart, forcing the body to create more blood vessels.
Marina Bainbridge of Zephyrhills had problems doing anything without becoming short of breath before receiving ECP treatment, but now can cook, shop and do her chores again.
Alonso said such new treatments are important, but the real addition to the community comes from giving people faster care during major cardiac problems.
“In our community, before we had the institute, patients were having to leave Pasco County and go to Tampa primarily to have heart surgery and intervention,” Alonso said. “When a person is in the middle of having a heart attack, the best practice is to get that coronary artery open within 90 minutes. We’re able to provide that service faster.
“It was a huge delay to get people to Tampa,” Alonso continued. “That time difference caused people to have the quality of life change. It did affect their outcomes, so we’ve been able to dramatically improve those outcomes.”
Alonso ran the intensive care and progressive care units at the hospital before the Heart Institute opened. She came to the hospital because she knew the facility would be opening and wanted to be a member of its team.
“Being a part of this program is my biggest accomplishment in my 30 years in healthcare,” Alonso said. “To see this hospital provide this level of care to this community is more gratifying than anything else I’ve done professionally. To feel the community’s commitment to us is something I’ve never been a part of. We still get donations from community groups.”
One recent donation came from the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie and Auxiliary in Zephyrhills, which gave $3,000. The money is being used to enhance heart care.
“We’re constantly looking at the newest and best services out there,” Alonso said. “One of the things we’re going to use the money from the Eagles club for is to assist in our hypothermal program. That’s for patients who had cardiac arrest outside of the hospital. It preserves their brain function by cooling the brain.”
In addition, the hospital started a heart failure support group in April. The group meets the first Thursday of every month. For more information on the group, call (813) 788-0411.
Heart Institute by the numbers
- 5,939 diagnostic caths
- 2,720 interventional caths
- 823 electrophysiology procedures
- 706 open-heart surgeries
- 10,188 total cardiac procedures
Awards/distinctions given to the Heart Institute
- Became an accredited chest pain center in 2009
- Received designation as a heart failure institute in 2010
- Received Excellence in Coronary Intervention award from Healthgrades in 2010
- Received five-star designation from Healthgrades for coronary intervention in 2011
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