Heart scans save lives by detecting more than blocked arteries

January 22, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

On Feb. 24, 2018, Bolingbrook resident Jim Curran, 62, and his wife Terry, 55, had heart scans at Edward Hospital. He says he was pretty sure that nothing was wrong with his heart, but to be a good sport, he went along with his wife’s idea to do this during American Heart Month.

The heart scan, which takes just a few minutes, measures plaque build-up in the coronary arteries, the most common cause of heart disease. The test is recommended for women over 45 and men over 40 who have one or more heart disease risk factors.

At Edward, the heart scan process also includes a screening with checks of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, as well as a consultation with a registered nurse immediately after the scan. The nurse provides a preliminary report on the scan results, and advice about reducing the risk of heart disease.

The next step is review of the scan by a cardiologist who generates a final report. Among potential changes to the first report are “incidental findings” — results not related to a test’s original purpose. An example would be a breast mass seen on a chest CT that was ordered to rule out a blood clot. Heart scans done at Edward in 2017 yielded incidental findings in about 60 percent of patients.

When the Currans received their preliminary reports, they were encouraged.

Jim says, “My wife learned that her results were pretty good, and I was told my calcium score was excellent. I had no calcium, no plaque.”

But, a few days later, the Currans received a call with the final reports. Ann Davis, M.D., an independent cardiologist on the medical staff at Edward Hospital, reviewed Jim’s scan and detected two additional findings.

Images revealed a fairly large (5.4 centimeters) thoracic aortic aneurysm, which is a bulge in a portion of the aorta that passes through the chest. A rupture could cause potentially life-threatening bleeding.

The second finding was difficult to visualize on the scan, but the image suggested a malformation in Jim’s aortic valve. It appeared to be bicuspid, meaning it had only two leaflets, rather than the three-leaflet (tricuspid) configuration that’s normal.

Aman Ali, M.D., an independent cardiologist on the medical staff at Edward, examined Jim and prescribed a series of cardiac tests. He also recommended that Jim consult a heart surgeon to discuss removal of the aneurysm.

“I want it cut out of me,” Jim says he told Dr. Ali. “I spend time with a group of special needs young people. Just a couple of weeks earlier I had been running up and down the basketball court with them. Something could have happened to me then.”

In selecting a cardiac surgeon, Jim sought opinions from a number of people, including his sister who’s a Chicago area nursing executive. He ultimately chose Bryan Foy, M.D., an independent cardiothoracic surgeon on the medical staff at Edward, who performed the four-hour open heart surgery on April 12.

Dr. Foy removed the aneurysmal portion of Jim’s aorta and replaced it with a synthetic graft. Then, he replaced Jim’s aortic valve which, as suspected, turned out to be malformed.

“Throughout this whole process, I felt I was in good hands,” says Jim, who returned to his logistics management job for a food supplier 11 weeks later.

He says, “I’m now a walking public service announcement for heart scans. I tell everyone I know who’s over 40 to get one.  The heart scan not only had a big impact on me, but also on my relatives. Because my valve condition is genetic, all my siblings and children have gotten tested since my surgery. And my wife enjoys reminding me that she may have saved my life by persuading me to go for the scan.”

To find out if you’re at risk for heart disease, take an online HeartAware assessment.

Learn more about heart and vascular services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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