The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 22, 2014

Conemaugh heart program expands

JOHNSTOWN — Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center’s heart program is frequently recognized for its outstanding performance in areas such as mortality, medical complications, expenses, patient satisfaction, standards of care and readmission rates.

A three-time winner of the The HealthGrades Coronary Intervention Excellence Award, ranked in the top 10 percent nationally, Memorial’s program has also earned HealthGrades national consulting organization’s Cardiac Care Excellence Award twice and its Cardiac Surgery Excellence Award.

It has achieved five-star HealthGrades ratings for valve surgery, coronary interventional procedures and treatment of heart attack.

But Memorial’s medical director of cardiovascular services is not resting on the program’s laurels.

“We will take it to the next level,” Dr. Savas Mavridis said, listing plans for heart valve, heart rhythm and heart failure clinics with state-of-the-art technology for support.

The newest advance was rolled out last year and will be fully operational in a few months. It is the new vascular operating suite, which doubles as a heart valve replacement lab using less-invasive needle-based methods known as percutaneous valve replacement.

“The operating room is up and running,” vascular surgeon Dr. Justin Boccardo said, explaining the hybrid suite allows both traditional open vascular surgery and endoscopic procedures using minimally invasive techniques.

Using the latest imaging technology from Philips Healthcare, the new OR features several video screens, which display images of the area being treated.

Mavridis describes the hybrid suite as a combination catheterization lab and traditional OR. It will allow specially trained surgeons to replace the heart’s aortic valve using a small wire fed through a blood vessel into the heart much as a balloon catheterization is done.

The new heart valve is positioned inside the disease-damaged aortic valve and then secured in place by inflating a balloon, the American Heart Association website says.

This procedure is done on a beating heart, without surgically opening the chest and placing the patient on a heart-lung machine, so recovery is generally faster. But it is only approved currently for patients too sick to have the traditional valve-replacement surgery.

Mavridis said the transcatheter aortic valve implantation, or TAVI, represents one of the few heart procedures that Johnstown patients have gone to Pittsburgh to receive.

“It’s easier to say what is not provided here,” Mavridis said of Conemaugh’s heart program.

Up until a year ago, cardiac electrophysiology was another area of care that required trips to Pittsburgh. The specialty addresses electrical functions of the heart.

But the recruitment of a cardiac electrophysiologist, Dr. Genevieve Brumberg, brought a heart rhythm program to Conemaugh.

She joined the Johnstown team after her fellowship training in electrophysiology at UPMC’s heart program in Pittsburgh.

Drawing on Brumberg’s expertise, Memorial added its  new electrophysiology lab, where doctors use the latest techniques to test, diagnose and treat arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Arrhythmia can lead to other cardiac complications, fatigue, congestive heart failure or stroke.

Services include cardiac mapping, which detects electrical heart activity in real time; ablation studies, which use a non-surgical, minimally invasive catheter to study electrical impulses and potentially block irregularities; and implanting defibrillators, small devices that detect dangerous rhythms and shock the heart back into a regular pace.

As the heart rhythm program continues to build, and the heart valve program expands, Mavridis wants to establish clinics where teams of medical professionals from a variety of specialties collaborate to address all of the patients’ needs.

The heart valve and heart rhythm clinics will be joined by a heart failure clinic for patients with congestive heart failure, especially those using implanted heart pumps or assist devices.

“We think we are positioning ourselves that we will be able to take care of most heart patients,” Mavridis said.

The clinics are designed to help patients manage their heart conditions and prevent recurrence.

“It is the way health care is moving,” Mavridis said. “We want to keep patients out of the hospital.”

Randy Griffith covers health care for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at


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