Great heart care in the community

Members of our Cardiac Cath Lab team

One of the best parts about my job is that I have the opportunity to experience the many varied efforts and activities happening behind the scenes to bring great healthcare to our communities. It is amazing to see hundreds of dedicated people pulling together for that one great common objective.

For example, I spent some time visiting with the staff of our cardiac catheterization labs at MelroseWakefield Cardiovascular Center while making rounds recently and was struck by a great feeling of pride after talking to them.

The cardiac cath labs

A cardiac catheterization lab (or cath labs) is a procedural suite with advanced, specialized equipment for showing highly detailed images of what is happening inside veins and arteries supporting the heart, and for treating blockages or abnormal heart rhythms in a scheduled or an emergency basis. Our physicians in the cath labs are highly-trained specialists in cardiac care, electrophysiology and interventional radiology who are also on staff at academic medical centers in Boston such as Tufts Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital.

MelroseWakefield Hospital is the only community hospital in north suburban Boston that has cardiac cath labs and therefore is the only one that is licensed to treat heart attacks. That means that patients experiencing a heart attack are as likely to come to MelroseWakefield Hospital for life-saving care as they are to go the nearest Boston hospital – Massachusetts General Hospital. That is an impressive distinction for a community hospital and one that our cardiac care team takes very seriously.

Minutes are muscle

two technicians review results of a cath lab study
Cath labs at MelroseWakefield Hospital

There is a saying in the cath labs that “minutes are muscle” when a heart vessel is blocked. For every minute that goes by, more heart muscle is potentially damaged. The team in our cath labs consistently has one of the best “door-to-balloon” response times in the region. “Door-to-balloon” time refers to the amount of time that passes from the moment a heart attack patient has their first contact with a medical provider to the time that the life-saving procedure to open up the artery with a balloon-tipped catheter begins.

When local EMS teams respond to a heart attack in the community, they advance plan for the highest, most appropriate level of response for that patient, and it often means bringing them to our cardiovascular center. They call ahead to let us know that the patient is on the way and that triggers an immediate response to  prepare one of the cath labs and mobilize all key personnel in place, no matter what time of day.

These team members are deeply committed to what they do. Their lives and their families’ lives are greatly impacted by that commitment. One nurse I spoke with made sure to note that it is their family members who are the true heroes, knowing that the cath labs team members can get a call at any time to leave their families and rush in for a procedure. Driving a separate vehicle to a movie, a football game or any activity is the norm to allow for a quick response to the hospital. Members of the cath labs team also went on to say that when all is done, there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude knowing that they had a part in helping a patient survive a traumatic event and that the patient also will be able to return to their family.

History of innovation

For more than 25 years, our cardiac cath labs have been an innovative community resource in bringing new advanced treatments and procedures to local residents. Thousands of lives have been extended and improved thanks to many different procedures including pacemakers implanted in the labs. In recent years, cardiac services have continued to grow with the addition of highly advanced electrophysiology services. The services include cardiac ablations to treat heart rhythm disorders such as arrhythmia and atrial fibrillation. This video describes more about these services.

Last year, MelroseWakefield Cardiovascular Center introduced advanced “Impella” technology… this is a tiny temporary heart pump that works for the heart to support blood flow through the body when the heart can’t beat on its own. It is life-saving, used only in emergency heart failure situations. For the people in our community, it is a game-changer. Read more about this important procedure here.

 Rounding out the services in our cath labs is the groundbreaking work our interventional radiologists perform each day. They provide the highest level of diagnosing and treating complex medical and surgical conditions. I will write more about these efforts in a future post, but would be remiss to not mention the collaboration between cardiology and interventional radiology here.

Great community care

Having cardiac cath labs puts us in a unique position among area community hospitals, offering that same level of cardiac emergency care as in the Boston hospitals.  It changes the way the people in the community think about and access high-level heart care. Our patients have the confidence that their cardiac needs can be met locally, without having to travel into Boston.  Access to experts who trained alongside many of the specialists in big city hospitals or currently rotate through them ensures consistent high quality care.  Eliminating the need to navigate Boston traffic and high city parking fees with our convenient suburban location and free parking ensures that patients are more likely to keep their appointments and manage their health better. That is what great community care is all about.

Thank you for all of the great feedback on this blog. I enjoy hearing your thoughts about our services and any future topics of interest or concern as they relate to great community healthcare. You can write to me at