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Hospital nears OK for early angioplasty

March 18, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Washington County Hospital is just weeks away from advances that will bring lifesaving technologies closer to home for stroke victims and cardiac patients, hospital president James P. Hamill announced Wednesday night at a public forum.

The hospital expects to receive state certification Thursday to begin performing angioplasty, or surgery on clogged blood vessels, in nonemergency situations, Hamill said. The hospital has been performing angioplasty on patients suffering from heart attacks for one year as of this week, Hamill said. The new certification will allow the hospital to perform the surgeries on patients who are at risk for heart attacks in addition to those actively suffering from them.

Between 1,000 and 1,200 cardiac patients will be eligible for nonprimary angioplasty when it becomes available, Hamill said.

The hospital also is close to introducing new "telemedicine" technology that will make stroke experts available 24 hours a day to remotely assess patients' candidacy for an effective, but time-sensitive clot-busting drug, Hamill said. That technology should be in place by April 1, he said.

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The telemedicine technology will link the hospital to vascular neurologists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who can work with emergency room doctors to determine if patients are good candidates for tissue plasminogen activator, or TPA, Hamill said. If an eligible stroke victim gets TPA within 90 minutes to two hours of the stroke, he or she usually can make a complete recovery by the next day, he said. Currently, neurologists have to travel to the hospital from elsewhere in the region to assess patients before the drug can be administered, he said.

The announcements came during an hour-and-a-half forum at Robinwood Medical Center that also included updates on the new regional medical center and information on some of Washington County Health System's community-benefits initiatives.

Construction of the new medical center is about 25 percent complete, with steel erection almost entirely finished and brickwork, roofing and window installation beginning, project manager Neal McKelvey said.

The nonprimary angioplasty certification is expected as a result of the success of the hospital's angioplasty program's first year, Hamill said. Since starting its angioplasty program in March 2008, the hospital has performed more than 85 of the procedures, Hamill said. About 95 percent of those have been performed within 90 minutes of the victim's heart attack, he said. When the blockage is opened up within 90 minutes, the patient has a significant chance of having little or no muscle damage to the heart, he said.

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