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Cardiac heart.

Heart Screen can detect cardiac problems early

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WORTHINGTON -- In retrospect, Paul Hoffman realizes that there were signs that something wasn't quite right with his physical health.

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"I thought I was feeling fine," he reflected. "But I look back at it now, and there were different times that I felt a bit of dizziness, different times over the years when I had a little lightheadedness, but I just thought it was advancing age."

But those symptoms weren't what prompted Paul -- and also his wife, Alice -- to take the Heart Screen at Sanford Regional Hospital Worthington. For the Hoffmans, it was more of a precautionary measure.

"A friend of ours, Jane Krohn, works at the Worthington hospital, and she'd heard about this heart screen and wanted all of her friends to do it, so she signed my wife and me and all our friends up, because it was such a good price," Paul explained.

While Alice passed the screening with flying colors, Paul's results prompted additional testing that determined one of Paul's arteries was 80 percent blocked. Angioplasty and a stent ensued.

"I call Jane my guardian angel now," credited Paul, who hasn't experienced any symptoms since. "She probably prevented me from having a heart attack."

SRHW employees Reed Fricke, Barb Arnold and Mary Hesemann are gratified to hear such stories. As SRHW radiology manager, Fricke oversees the heart calcium scoring portion of the Heart Screen, and Arnold and Hesemann are the screening nurses.

While they know the Heart Screen has resulted in significant cardiac findings, they aren't usually privy to the outcome.

"They leave us, and we never know how they turn out," said Arnold.

As an outreach of the Sanford Screening Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., the Heart Screen has been offered at SRHW for about a year, and about 600 area patients have gone through the process during that time. The screen includes a lipid panel, electrocardiogram, blood pressure check and heart calcium score.

"There's a good share of education that occurs, too," noted Hesemann, who talks to the patients about lifestyle changes they can make to improve their heart health.

The screening process begins with a finger stick blood draw to check cholesterol levels, followed by the blood pressure and EKG. Arnold and Hesemann oversee those processes, and then the patient is taken to the radiology department for the heart calcium score, which is done by computed tomography (CT) scan.

The CT looks for the buildup of calcium on the walls of the arteries within the heart. Normally, the coronary arteries do not contain calcium. The presence of calcium is a sign of heart disease, and the higher the score on heart calcium testing, the more plaque in the arteries of the heart, increasing the chance of heart attack.

"They told me they wanted it to be under 400, and I think mine was 800," related Hoffman. "My wife's was zero. When the calcium score is over 400, they invite you back for another round of tests."

The Heart Screen at SRHW takes about 45 minutes and costs $50 -- a significant savings for tests that when done separately are valued at $875. As it is an initial screening, no physician referral is needed.

"We see a lot of people who say they have a family history of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, blockage," noted Arnold, as well as people who have someone close to them who has experienced cardiac issues.

The results of the tests are compiled and mailed to the patient with the appropriate recommendations.

"There are three letters that can come backL You're fine; a recommendation to follow up with a family doctor; or a recommendation to follow up with a cardiologist," said Fricke.

No fasting or other test preparations are required.

"There really wasn't much to it," said Hoffman. "It was painless and didn't take very long."

But for Hoffman, who received the third letter option, the screening process likely saved him from a trip to the emergency room at some point down the road.

"I think a lot of men feel that if they don't go in, what you don't know won't hurt you," he said. "That's the kind of guy who's going to end up with a heart attack or stroke."

The Heart Screen is offered on Thursday afternoons at SRHW. People interested in making an appointment should phone 1-800-445-5788.

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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