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Free medical care for heart patients

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

If you've had one heart attack, you're less likely to survive a second. But it's up to you to reduce your risk.

UT researchers say they can help. They believe by giving expensive, high tech care up front, they can save lives and dollars.

Getting a scan to look at your heart costs thousands of dollars. But would it be worth it, if it saved you from having a second heart attack? Some researchers say yes.

"It's something you don't have to have. It's an unnecessary tragedy," said UT Principal Investigator Dr. Stefano Sdringola. "We can stop the progression of disease and prevent heart attacks."

In this century study, UT Houston cardiologists use a PET scan, a high tech tool rarely available to heart patients. With precision, it shows early coronary artery disease. Heart attack survivor Jimmy Willard knew he had problems. He's already had one serious heart attack. This new scan showed he has a new area of decreased blood flow.

Doctors use expensive technology and have a team including dietitians to teach study patients how to change their lifestyles. The UT team believes all this, in the end, this will actually save money by preventing heart attacks, emergency bypass surgery and angioplasties. But the Houston researchers have to prove it. So they're doing a five year study with people like Willard.

"I took the Life Flight helicopter up here, wound up with triple bypass heart surgery," Willard recalled.

UT Cardiologist Dr. K. Lance Gould explained, "Current medicine, cardiovascular medicine is fundamentally a crash and burn procedure."

Bypass surgery costs about $40,000, and angioplasty about $10,000. That doesn't even include the pain or possibility of death.

"The prevention becomes enormously efficient and much cheaper," said Dr. Gould.

Willard will get two more scans to look for improvements, but he believes the changes he's making in this study will make him less likely to have heart attack #2.

"I don't want to go through that again," he said.

The good news is researchers are looking for 1,300 Houston area residents who have symptoms of heart disease. They will provide free medical care for five years, including state of the art scans. If you're interested, call 713-500-5200 or visit www.centuryhealthstudy.org.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter.

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