Maui Memorial Medical Center Adds Two New Interventional Cardiologists To Staff

MMMC poised to be among state’s largest heart programs
Improving viability

By CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS, Staff Writer
Article from: The Maui News

WAILUKU – With two new interventional cardiologists on staff, Maui Memorial Medical Center recorded its first angioplasty just three days into the new year.

Two more procedures – used to open blocked or narrowed coronary arteries – were successfully done at the end of last week, with the number of angioplasties projecting to run as high as 200 on Maui by the close of 2011.

“This is huge,” said Maui Memorial Chief Executive Officer Wesley Lo. “It’s something we’ve been working to do for a long time.”

Last November, Drs. Colin Lee and Joseph Chambers – colleagues who attended the same medical school – joined the cardiology and cardiovascular team of physicians at Maui’s only acute-care hospital.

“The center is poised to become one of the largest and most comprehensive heart programs in the state,” read an announcement of the latest development at Maui Memorial’s Heart Brain and Vascular Center.

Lee and Chambers spent their first eight weeks at work meeting with staff and orienting medical personnel to the angioplasty procedure and what it can do for patients.

Angioplasty is a common medical procedure, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, that may be used to:

* Improve symptoms of chest pain or discomfort.

* Reduce damage to the heart muscle caused by a heart attack.

* Reduce the risk of death in some patients.

Lee and Chambers each have more than 20 years of experience in angioplasty, treating thousands of patients on the Mainland. More than a million people annually in the United States undergo angioplasty, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Under Lo’s leadership, the hospital received final approval for a state certificate of need in July 2007 to offer cardiac procedures including angioplasty and open heart surgery.

Maui Memorial estimates that as many as 400 cardiovascular cases have been transferred off-island annually in the last two or three years because of the hospital’s inability to provide acute interventional care such as angioplasty. The medivac expense alone costs approximately $18,000 per patient, Lo said.

With angioplasty now offered at Maui Memorial, Lo said residents can be treated near their homes and be spared the transportation costs of being flown elsewhere. Angioplasties are covered by most medical insurance plans, and Lo’s office has already contacted the state’s major health insurers to inform them of Maui Memorial’s newest cardiac services.

In developing its cardiac unit, Lo brought on board cardiac surgeon Dr. Pat Cochran to lead the heart center and a team of cardiovascular doctors. Cochran served as the standby surgeon while the first angioplasty was performed at Maui Memorial.

Since Cochran’s hiring, two other noninvasive cardiologists have been added to the hospital’s staff – Drs. Jonathan Allen and Leslie Oberst. Dr. Koonlawee Nademanee, a renowned physician in cardiac electrophysiology, also is listed as part of the cardiac team and sees patients at Maui Memorial several times a year.

The first angioplasty procedure at Maui Memorial was completed Jan. 3 on 72-year-old Ruth Shorting, a visitor from Canada who experienced chest pains during a trip to Maui.

Shorting was admitted through the emergency room after reporting worsening chest pains. After a consultation with Oberst, Shorting was referred for a diagnostic angiogram with doctors determining that she needed an angioplasty.

Together, Lee and Chambers performed the procedure to treat what appeared to be a critical coronary blockage in Shorting.

The patient’s chest pain was resolved with no heart damage, and she was discharged after two days of observation.

Contacted in Canada, Shorting was grateful for her treatment.

“I could not have asked for a better hospital, and my daughter works in a hospital, so I know,” she said. “From the doctor’s office to the ER and procedure, everything just went so smoothly. It was just an amazing experience.”

Lee and Chambers described Maui Memorial’s cardiac center and its equipment as “state of the art.” They acknowledged that they had established medical practices and careers on the Mainland – Lee in Idaho, and Chambers in Oregon, but they wanted to come to Maui so they could focus on medicine.

“This is a rare opportunity because the services are needed. I figure why not do it where it’s important,” Chambers said.

For Lee, a 1974 Punahou School graduate, coming to Maui allowed him to fulfill a dream he had as a youngster to work and then retire on the Valley Isle.

“I’m really thrilled about the opportunity to contribute to the community,” he said.

Lo said the cardiac center and angioplasty procedures themselves could generate thousands of dollars for Maui Memorial, a state community hospital, and help reduce its annual budget deficits.

“This should have a major impact on us over time,” Lo said. “Certainly, it’s a start in the right direction toward improving our viability. Whether we’ll be entirely out of a deficit, I don’t know,” he said.

Lee and Chambers said angioplasties will require a referral from a patient’s primary physician. “We say to people this is not an easy fix,” Lee said.

About one in 500 angioplasties result in serious complications; and about one in 1,000 result in death, Lee said. The procedure takes about 90 minutes to complete. A patient would need to stay in the hospital for one to three days after the procedure.