New cardiac imaging equipment saving lives at Red Deer Regional Hospital

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
February 15, 2018 - 6:00am

A $500,000 piece of equipment at Red Deer Regional Hospital is improving the standard of care for cardiac patients, but what overall impact is it having?

Following an anonymous donation of $750,000 in 2015 earmarked for cardiac care, the hospital purchased a Transesophageal Echocardiography (TEE) machine last spring. It was used for the first time in September and is utilized about a dozen times each month.

Kelly Lehmann, Director of Cardiac Sciences for the Central Zone of AHS says the machine is saving lives.

“With TEE, it takes a look at the heart in a way it's not able to be looked at normally. The nice thing is it’s minimally invasive, so a probe goes down the esophagus and it sits right behind the heart, takes pictures of the valves, looks for blood clots, valve and aorta abnormalities,” says Lehmann. “It helps get patients out of the hospital sooner. It’s shortening hospital stays, and people don't have to travel to get it done.”

She notes a typical echocardiogram is done with a probe on the chest, but the chest wall and lungs are then in the way of properly seeing the heart.

The test can be done on people of all ages, except pediatric patients, and is done both before and after a heart attack or stroke.

Lehmann adds while you wouldn’t see a TEE system inside the hotly-desired cath lab Red Deer wants and needs, it is a big part of that continuum of cardiac care.

“It is actually connected as we build a stronger cardiac program. We know that Alberta Health Services is working on a provincial review of cath lab services,” she says. “We are improving the foundational pieces of a cardiac program to make what we do here in the Central Zone stronger and better.”

Lehmann says that includes the four cardiologists who’ve been hired in Red Deer since 2006, one of whom is Dr. Stephen Tilley who says the TEE machine is state of the art, produces amazing images, and is helping people,

He does say, however, it’s something Red Deer should’ve had 10 or 15 years ago.

“There are cities much smaller than Red Deer that have had TEE Echo for years -- it's just sort of bread and butter. TEE Echo is just one of those things you sort of have to have prior to having a cardiac cath lab, not because they are related, but because it’s commensurate with a town of our size.”

Tilley, who began practicing in Red Deer only a couple years ago, says the machine is saving patients many trips out of town, particularly to Edmonton’s Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute where TEE Echo images are analyzed prior to surgeries being recommended.

“We're really very lucky that we've been able to implement this. The TEE piece is one piece in a comprehensive set of cardiac services,” he says. Tilley estimates though that the scope of cardiac services offered in Red Deer is about 50-60 per cent of what it could be if the city had a cardiac catheterization lab. He also says local cardiac rehab services could be more robust.

“A cath lab is a big, big piece. Sometimes with an acute heart attack, you need a cath lab to get that vessel open, so certainly a cath lab is a major piece.”

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