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The Pulse of Technology

by Alex Young

Doctors are always looking for new technology to improve South Jersey’s heart health.

Cardiologists in South Jersey are working hard on finding new ways to keep patients’ hearts ticking through advanced technology and techniques. And with February’s Heart Health Awareness month—started by the American Heart Association—in full swing, we spoke with local experts who have their fingers on the pulse of heart health to find out about these new procedures.

Dr. Sajjad Sabir, a cardiologist at Cooper University Health Care, says cardiology is one field of medicine that is seeing new techniques all the time. “It’s one of the few fields that is actually pretty rapidly advancing,” he says. While open-heart surgeries were once at the cutting edge of medical techniques, Sabir says doctors have been finding new ways to treat heart problems less invasively. “In the past, the gold standard of treating valvular heart disease was sending a patient to a heart surgeon where they undergo open-heart surgery,” he says. “They would open the chest, put them on a heart-lung machine and fix the valve.”

Dr. Lynn McGrath, vice president of medical affairs at Deborah Heart and Lung Center, explains the heart is stopped completely during open-heart surgery, which could potentially lead to complications for the patient. “There are side effects to everything,” he says. “If you can do the operation without the heart-lung machine, you should.”

Medical experts perform these kinds of procedures in a cardiac catheterization laboratory, where they can run catheters through arteries. Since all of those arteries end up back at the heart, the operation can be done without making big incisions. Sabir says one of the biggest improvements in this area is the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, or TAVR. “We run a wire through an artery until it comes across that narrowed valve. Then there’s a balloon at the end of the wire that we inflate to open the valve,” he says. “On another catheter, we have a collapsed stent. Once we expand that stent, the new valve starts working right away.”

Similar procedures are done to fix other parts of the heart. McGrath says bypass surgery, one of the most common heart surgeries, has also become less invasive in the last few years through similar means. “The operation is for patients who develop blockages because of smoking, or diet or family history,” McGrath says. “What we do is take arteries from elsewhere in the body to make new arteries on the heart.” That used to mean opening the chest, stopping the heart and going on the heart-lung machine. Doctors can now do the same thing with a beating heart.

“If they don’t have their heart stopped, it makes for a much easier recovery,” McGrath says. “It’s less traumatic for the patients.” In the past, Sabir says a patient could expect to spend up to six days in the hospital to recover from an open-heart surgery. “Now you can go home much sooner, maybe up to three days at the most,” he says. “There’s less complications, you don’t have the heart rhythm problems and there’s a lower mortality.”

That recovery time is also where Sabir sees the most potential for improvement in the future. “Catheters keep getting smaller in size. Eventually, patients won’t have to be intubated with a breathing tube during the procedure,” he says. “They will be completely awake, have the procedure done and go home the next day. Hopefully that will become more common.”

However, heart surgeries aren’t the only area of heart health being improved by technology. Dr. Devender N. Akula, a cardiologist with Lourdes Cardiology/Associated Cardiovascular Consultants (ACC) who specializes in electrical problems of the heart, says common devices like pacemakers and defibrillators are becoming more and more high tech.

While the devices have always done their job, Akula says the recurring problem has been that they make it impossible for the patient to get an MRI. The metal components of the devices made the patients incompatible with the magnetic field of the MRI machine.

“It’s a big step forward,” says Akula. “The old pacemakers had wires running from the device into the heart. Newer ones would be more like a microchip. It helps make the procedure less invasive for patients. We don’t have to run wires through the heart or anything.”

There have also been improvements in the way the devices are maintained. “People would have to come into the office to check the devices,” Akula says. “Now they are given a monitor to take home, and they can check the device from home. It gives the patient a lot of peace of mind that they can stay connected to the doctor.”

With all the advances in technology in the cardiology field, Dr. Vic Bahal of Advanced Cardiology of South Jersey says it’s important to remember that preventative measures are just as critical. He has been using cardiology methods along with some extra help to ensure his patients achieve better heart health. “We are the only place using integrated cardiology in the area,” he says. “There’s still an emphasis on conventional medicine, but we also use supplements.” Patients can go through a series of tests to determine if they are at risk of any cardiovascular problems and the doctor can put them on a regimen of supplements, such as fish oil, to make sure they are taking care of themselves properly. “It’s all about prevention, diet, lifestyle,” Bahal says. “It won’t replace conventional tests … but people should be pro-health.”

Whatever the technology or technique, McGrath says their main goal is to get the patient better, faster. “We’ve done hundreds of procedures and the convalescence that the patients go through is much more smooth,” he says. “And they leave the hospital much sooner.” Sabir agrees. “You feel better, you live longer,” he says. “You get back to normal activities much more quickly than you would otherwise.”


Advanced Cardiology of South Jersey
Dr. Vic Bahal
4 Burton Lane
Mullica Hill
(856) 241-3838

Lourdes Cardiology/Associated Cardiovascular Consultants (ACC)
Dr. Devender N. Akula
1 Brace Road | Cherry Hill
(856) 428-4100

Cooper University Health Care
Dr. Sajjad A. Sabir
1210 Brace Road | Cherry Hill
900 Centennial Blvd. | Voorhees
(888) 342-2034

Deborah Heart and Lung Center
Dr. Lynn McGrath
200 Trenton Road | Browns Mills
(609) 765-2926

Published (and copyrighted) in the Art of Living Well pull-out section of Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 12 (February, 2015).
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