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ASSOCIATED CARDIOVASCULAR CONSULTANTS PROVIDES EARLY INTERVENTION

Wednesday, September 12, 2007
By WILFORD S. SHAMLIN—Courier-Post Staff

Associated Cardiologist Consultants (ACC), a private practice in the Haddon Hill Professional Center, is helping a network of 35 cardiologists treat patients whose hearts have been weakened or damaged by congestive heart failure.

Lynda Tobin and patient


Patient Ron Holak (left) of Oaklyn discusses his health with nurse practitioner Lynda Tobin at Associated Cardiovascular Consultants in Cherry Hill.

The center, which celebrated its first anniversary last month, recently treated its 300th patient. ACC staffers say its emphasis on early intervention represents a new approach in treating the chronic condition, which makes simple activities more difficult.

The staffers say that early intervention means patients are subjected to fewer costly hospital visits. Typically, doctors become aware of serious health problems only when patients complain about symptoms.

"They're calling us too late, and they end up being hospitalized -- and the hospitalization could have been averted," said Dr. Reginald Blaber, medical director for Associated Cardiovascular Consultants.

Local cardiologists are now referring heart-failure patients to ACC for a consultation immediately after making a diagnosis. Associated emphasizes early prevention and helps people manage their conditions between doctor visits to prevent more damage.

Through early intervention, ACC estimates that it has kept 70 people out of the hospital.

At ACC, patients and their families learn how to recognize the early warning signs of fluid overload -- a precursor to congestive heart failure. It's all part of a preventative strategy that allows heart-care specialists to be proactive in treating the problem.

In congestive heart failure, a weakened heart no longer pumps blood as well as it once did. Blood backs up in the vessels around the lungs, and fluid seeps into the lung. The resulting congestion causes labored breathing.

"More people are hospitalized with heart failure than any other disease, and it costs the health-care industry $20 billion to $40 billion to take care of these people," said Lynda Tobin, a nurse practitioner for ACC.

"More than half of that is hospitalization costs because people are frequently readmitted. We help teach patients how to care for themselves and prevent congestive heart failure and flare-ups indicating worsening of the disease," she said.

Ann Marie Sheehan and patient


Ann Marie Sheehan, a registered nurse, examines patient Ron Holak of Oaklyn at Associated Cardiovascular Consultants in Cherry Hill.

Patients meet with nurse practitioners, who work in consultation with local cardiologists affiliated with Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, Underwood-Memorial Hospital in Woodbury and Virtua-West Jersey Hospital, which has hospitals in Marlton, Berlin and Voorhees. Nurse practitioners have an advanced medical degree and can prescribe medication.

Patients learn about the importance of a low-sodium diet, tracking their weight daily and recognizing early warning signs, such as swelling of hands and feet, shortness of breath, dizziness or fainting, constant cough, abdominal bloating and sudden weight gain.

ACC's staff also explains its reasons for prescribing particular medications. Some people will stop taking their medication simply because they don't really understand why they need it, Blaber said.

Ronald Holak, 69, of Oaklyn, has been in and out of the hospital for several years because of problems with congestive heart failure. But since he started going to ACC nine months ago, he's only gone to the hospital once.

"It's wonderful," Holak said. "The nurses are just outstanding. If you have a problem, nothing's too much for them. They call my house to see how I'm doing. If I have a problem, I call them. I couldn't ask for anything better."

TIPS FOR HEART PATIENTS

Here are some guidelines for patients with congestive heart failure:

  • Take medicine prescribed by a doctor or nurse practitioner daily.
  • Minimize sodium in your diet.
  • Weigh yourself daily and record your weight.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Stay active.
  • Avoid lifting more than 10 pounds unless allowed by doctor or nurse practitioner.
  • Avoid temperatures colder than 30 degrees or hotter than 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If overweight, reduce weight.
  • Drink alcohol sparingly or not at all.
  • Get a yearly flu shot.