Doctors talk heart health at Fawcett’s cardiovascular symposium

Dr. Dennis Stapleton addresses the audience.

“How many of you have experienced heart problems,” asked Fawcett Memorial Hospital’s President and CEO Bill Hawley.

Nearly half of the guests filling the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center stood up.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in American men and women.

And, in an effort to get the word out on both preventative measures and care options, the hospital held their second annual Cardiovascular Health Symposium on Wednesday.

“I’m sorry that you have to be here,” said Dr. Dennis Stapleton, a cardiovascular surgeon, “that’s what I tell all my patients.”

As the first of three guest speakers, Stapleton went on to detail the choices patients have when facing heart surgery.

His number one piece of advice?

“Ask your friends, nurses, primary care doctor, cardiologist who the best choice is, who they would recommend. Ask them who they would pick if it was them or a family member looking for a surgeon.”

And doctors at Fawcett continue striving to be a first choice.

“We are currently a top 100 hospital for cardiac intervention according to Hospital Grade and a 5-star recipient for treatment of heart failure and heart attack care. I’m very proud of that,” Hawley said.

Stapleton added: “If I keep you here to operate, you can trust there’s no one better in the area to do your surgery. I’ll be the one who sees you every day, I’ll be the one holding your hand and helping you through the process.”

Many patients, however, might never even have to meet Stapleton due to the preventative measures of other staff, including Dr. Melody Stratton and Dr. Sergio Cossu.

Stratton, a cardiologist, detailed early warning signs, as well as ways to deter heart problems.

“Cardiovascular disease is largely preventable. Heart disease has been so well studied we know what causes it and we know how to prevent it,” she said.

Some risk factors, unfortunately, are unchangeable, including age, being male or having a family history of heart disease.

Still, there are many more influences we can control and help to lower the risk such as tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and lack of physical activity.

“Everyone is different, so heart disease looks different in everyone – we had one lady come in with stomach pains and, turns out, she was having a heart attack. But early recognition is key, we try to keep you away from Dr. Stapleton,” Stratton said.

Another common cardiac issue comes in the form of atrial fibrillation, or irregular rhythm, which Cossu specializes in.

“We’re still cardiologists, we just have extra training in the electrical system – we like to say cardiologists are divided into plumbers and electricians,” he said.

An irregular heartbeat can be divided into tachyarrhythmia — meaning it’s too fast — and bradyarrhythmia —– too slow. Both issues can cause palpitations, dizziness and shortness of breath and lead to everything from blood clots to stroke.

“Here in Charlotte County, it’s almost an epidemic due to the age of our population and it’s been estimated that 5.6 million people in the United States will have atrial fibrillation by 2050,” Cossu said.

Luckily, atrial fibrillation also has a variety of treatment options so patients and doctors can decide together what works best, from anticoagulants to surgery.

“Talking about cardiac care, we are a great hospital. [These doctors] make the community a safer place for all of us to live,” said Hawley.

“This is a growing community so our hospital has to grow too.”

In addition to the very visible parking garage construction project, Fawcett is also adding more patient rooms, expanding their cardiac catheterization labs and planning for a helipad, all to better treat and provide for those coming through their doors.

“You can get your life back and get back to the people and things that you love,” Stapleton said.


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