Facilities focus on heart disease care

Education and support help patients live healthy lives

by Hilary Thomson staff writer

The beat goes on for patients using two new heart disease facilities at St. Paul's Hospital.

The Heart Function Clinic and the Patient and Family Resource Centre aim to educate and support patients with heart disease so that individuals can stay healthier at home and costly hospital stays are reduced.

"The good news is that surgical and technological advances mean more people are surviving heart attacks," says Cardiology Clinical Asst. Prof. Andrew Ignaszewski, the clinic's medical director. "The challenging part is helping them live better and longer lives with damaged hearts."

Heart failure results from changes in the heart's function as a pump leading to circulatory congestion.

Patient educator Catherine Clark interviews patients that have been referred to the clinic by their general practitioner or specialist. Ignaszewski grades patients according to their heart function and sees them at intervals ranging from weekly to once every six months. He orders additional tests and adjusts medications as needed.

Monitoring fluid intake, diet changes--such as salt reduction --specialized exercise and medications are topics covered in follow-up visits. Clark teaches people about heart function and trouble signs, which if treated early can keep them out of hospital.

Symptoms include leg or ankle swelling, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite or weight gain of more than two kilograms.

Patients are discouraged from excess salt intake--which builds up fluid in the body and taxes the heart's pumping capacity--heavy drinking, drug use and smoking.

The clinic, which opened in November, has seen 75 patients from all over B.C. About two-thirds are men. About 350,000 Canadians suffer from heart failure.

Just down the hall, the Patient and Family Resource Centre--the only such centre in B.C.--has four computer terminals to provide interactive on-line information on cardiac rehabilitation programs and services in the patient's community.

Intended to supplement patient teaching programs, the centre has videos available for in-hospital viewing, brochures and a reference library. Patients can also buy heart-smart cookbooks at the facility which is set to open at the end of this month.

Trained Heart and Stroke Foundation volunteers will staff the centre eight hours a day, seven days a week initially. Hours of operation may be increased according to demand.

The centre is a collaboration of the Heart Centre of B.C. and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon.

more information

For more information on heart failure check the Web at www.heartfailure.org.