Park: TEE’ing off on Cardiac Care in Central Alberta

Two years ago the foundation received an anonymous donation of $750,000.

Immediately, $250,000 of this generous donation was used to purchase a Transesophageal Echo machine, or what is commonly referred to as a TEE machine.

The TEE is a machine used in cardiology. It is an ultrasound that takes an image of your heart from inside your body rather than outside. A probe enters the patient’s body through the esophagus and stops around the heart. There it is positioned to take one image or several images for examination by a cardiologist.

The TEE machine is considered the gold standard for echo cardiology. It’s a very specialized piece of equipment – almost one of a kind, as other equipment cannot duplicate the work that it does, and it is critical in determining treatment and discharge plans for cardiology patients.

So, how do cardiologists use TEE images to diagnose abnormalities of the heart? The information they gain from these images falls into three areas:

1. Do the valves of the patient’s heart function correctly? Visualization of the structure of the heart valves is one of the key functions for TEE. In addition to diagnosing heart valve abnormalities, the TEE provides valuable information about the heart valves that is needed prior to open heart surgery.

2. Is there a possibility of a blood clot within the heart? Some heart rhythm abnormalities make a patient prone to developing clots within the chambers of the heart. The presence of these clots needs to be ruled out before treatment can be done to correct the heart rhythm.

3. Are there abnormalities of the aorta that are causing a medical emergency? The aorta is the main artery that carries blood away from your heart. In some cases, abnormalities such as aortic dissection can be life threatening and need immediate intervention.

The TEE machine assists the cardiologist in an accurate and timely diagnosis so that plans for treatment can be put into place very quickly.

As with most pieces of specialized equipment there are some construction and computer upgrades to be completed before the TEE can become fully operational.

Once installed, the IT component will connect our TEE provincially so tests done in Red Deer can be shared with cardiologists in the more advanced cardiology centres of Edmonton and Calgary in the event a patient needs to travel there for more advanced therapy.

The great news is that our own TEE is anticipated to be up and running by the fall and the timing of the arrival couldn’t be better for Central Alberta. Currently, patients need to go to Edmonton or Calgary to access a TEE machine, but these centres now turn away some patients as they are running at full capacity. Equipment and services introduced into the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, including the TEE, will mean less travel time for patients, tests will be performed closer to home allowing for faster access to results, and Central Alberta patients will no longer compete with other patients from Edmonton or Calgary for access.

This is a true win/win as the wait lists in the bigger cities will decrease with better access for Central Albertans.

An often overlooked benefit of advanced technology equipment like the TEE is that it helps entice and retain staff at the Red Deer Hospital.

It takes a team of specialized professionals to run specialized tests: cardiologists, nurses, sonographers and respiratory therapists are all necessary.

In the future, if, and more likely when, another machine is required, it will help in attracting more even talented individuals to our hospital.

The director of Cardiac Sciences, Kelly Lehmann, estimates the hospital will initially be able to perform six to eight procedures a month, slowly increasing capacity over time.

The average procedure will take about two and a half hours from start to finish. The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre currently has two cardiologists who can operate the TEE: Dr. Tilley and Dr. Murphy.

However, as capacity grows so will the likelihood of needing additional cardiologists who can perform the procedure.

Although this extraordinary machine was made possible by a single, large donation, every donation – no matter the size – makes a difference to this hospital and the quality of care for Central Albertans.

Iaian Park is the executive director of the Red Deer Regional Health Foundation.

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