Doc Talk | Less invasive heart catheterizations

Februrary is Heart Health Month, and many heart problems will, at some point, need a heart catheterization. Heart catheterizations used to go through the leg or groin area through the femoral artery, but now, just by using a different part of the body, it can be much less invasive and just as effective.

Heart problems run in Joe Heffernan's family. For him, the journey started seven years ago.

"I had two small heart attacks and five stents," said Joe Heffernan, who lives in Camp Hill.

The most recent incident happened while he was in the operating room. Heffernan just so happens to be a nurse who works with heart patients.

"Actually I was at work doing a heart procedure on another patient, and I actually got some chest discomfort and a little sweaty," said Heffernan.

Immediately after the procedure, he got help. Ultimately doctors determined he'd need another heart catheterization, and Dr. Aditya Sharma was the cardiologist to do it.

"Commonly these procedures called heart catheterization are done through an artery in the leg called the femoral artery," said Dr. Aditya Sharma, a cardiologist at Geisinger Holy Spirit.

But to do it through the femoral artery, the patients needs to lie down the whole time, which can lead to complications, including bleeding and even death. That's why Dr. Sharma sought a different way in, through the radial artery in the wrist.

"The complication rate is lower in the sense of bleeding complications. As you can imagine, the artery in the arm is much smaller than the artery in the leg. But for the operator, it’s much more difficult," said Dr. Sharma.

That's because the curves that go to the heart are different and because it's a newer technology, the materials for the radial catheter are less developed.

But Heffernan's procedure was a success.

"I've had them done through the grain and through the wrist, and the wrist is much better. The risk of bleeding is much better. I don’t have to lay flat for hours. My first cath, I laid flat for eight hours after the procedure," said Heffernan.

Heffernan hasn't had any issues since the procedure, and he doesn't have a scar. It also gives him something to talk about with his patients.

"It’s much nicer for me that I can actually tell the patients hey this is what’s going to happen. It’s not as bad as you think."

Dr. Sharma says the procedure takes just 20 minutes. Recovery isn't much more than a day or two.

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