Southeastern Health

Southeastern Health Heart and Vascular: A decade to be proud of

During the month of May, we’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of Southeastern Health (SeHealth) Heart and Vascular as well as the establishment of our first Lumberton-based Private Diagnostic Clinic, Duke Cardiology and Cardiovascular Surgery of Lumberton, a faculty practice of Duke Health. The professionals there have accomplished great things since the doors opened a decade ago. Monday, May 16, 2016, marks 10 years to the date since the first heart procedure was performed in the heart center.

In the beginning, it was a single cardiologist with no private office. And only the most basic procedures could be done locally. Today, our Heart and Vascular Center’s medical staff includes six cardiologists, a cardiothoracic surgeon and a vascular surgeon who offer top-notch heart care here in our community.

“The past 10 years in Lumberton have taken Southeastern Health Heart and Vascular from its initial beginnings to a pretty comprehensive heart center that continues to expand its offerings,” says Chad Carpenter, Administrative Director of SeHealth Heart and Vascular. “It’s outstanding that a fairly small community has such a robust offering of cardiac services.”

A community in need

Terry Lowry, MD, is a cardiothoracic surgeon at SeHealth Heart and Vascular. He remembers when SeHealth, Duke Health and community leaders combined forces more than a decade ago to obtain a certificate of need for a heart center in Lumberton.

“Robeson County has a high incidence of cardiac disease, especially early-onset cardiovascular disease,” says

Dr. Lowry. He estimates that as many as 70 percent of people coming into Southeastern Regional Medical Center’s (SRMC) emergency room have chest pain.

Ten-plus years ago, many of those people had to be transferred to Duke for more intensive care than SeHealth’s resources afforded. And that was a burden for the patients’ families, who often couldn’t afford to make the long trip to visit with their loved ones.

“That was why we were able to justify the need for the heart center—because of the large number of people having to go outside the county for care,” says Dr. Lowry.

After the state gave the OK, the Private Diagnostic Clinic, the faculty practice of Duke Health, built its heart clinic across the street from the hospital. And SeHealth built the much-needed Heart and Vascular unit on SRMC’s third floor.

Simple beginnings

Dr. Lowry says SeHealth Heart and Vascular began by offering simple surgeries and procedures to patients at low risk for problems—things like uncomplicated coronary artery bypass grafts (CABGs) and percutaneous cardiovascular interventions (PCIs) involving a single blocked vessel.

“Then we moved to multiple vessel PCIs,” says Dr. Lowry. “We stepped up to patients who were sicker and at a little higher risk. We began doing aortic valve surgery, combined aortic valve surgery with CABG, and from there to mitral valve repair and replacement.”

A full-time vascular surgeon was hired to treat peripheral arterial disease and other vascular conditions. “Now we do minimally invasive as well as open vascular procedures,” Dr. Lowry says.

Dr. Lowry also performs minimally invasive lung surgery.

The next 10 years—and beyond

What’s next for SeHealth Heart and Vascular?

“The future holds an expanded capability for procedures in the ongoing development of the Vein and Vascular Center,” Carpenter says. “March 16 of this year marked the first successful laser vein ablation procedure, performed by Lina Vargas, MD. This procedure provides our broad community with a solution for patients with severe varicose veins and unresolved leg pain that can be more than a cosmetic blemish—it may represent a potentially serious underlying vein problem.”

“We’re looking at changing one of our operating rooms into what’s called a hybrid operating room, which could accommodate both open surgery and minimally invasive surgery,”

Within the next year, Duke Health and SeHealth Heart and Vascular plan to hire an additional electrophysiologist. An electrophysiologist specializes in treating abnormal heart rhythms.

Currently electrophysiologists come down from Duke each week to see patients in the clinic and perform implantable defibrillator procedures at SRMC, says Dr. Lowry, “but we’d like to expand services to include more complex surgical procedures and nonsurgical catheter ablations to treat a growing health care need in our community.”

Real, lifesaving results

Before 2006—before SeHealth Heart and Vascular existed—Robeson County had the highest cardiac mortality in the state, according to Dr. Lowry. In other words, more people died from heart disease here than in any other county in North Carolina.

But since SeHealth Heart and Vascular opened, those numbers have steadily declined. Now, cardiac mortality rates in Robeson County are lower than the state average.

“I think we have to take our hats off to Duke, SeHealth and the community leaders who had the vision and foresight to make these services available to the community,” says Dr. Lowry. “It has had such a huge impact on so many lives.”

Dr. Lowry grew up about 20 miles from SRMC.

“From a young age my parents prepped me to be a physician,” he says. “When my grandmother got heart disease, I became interested in the heart. But when I went down that track, I never imagined I’d be able to come back here to practice. I never expected the hospital here in Lumberton would develop a program where I could do open-heart surgery.

“It’s been an honor to be able to come back home and provide this service to the community. And it’s the collaboration between the hospital and Duke that made it all happen.”

Additional sources: American Heart Association; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Last Updated ( Monday, 25 July 2016 13:50 )  

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