Saving lives, one heart at a time

Bernard Stabb, 62, is a very healthy eater, exercises almost daily and lifts weights regularly, and he had no idea he was at risk for serious heart problems.

This self-described health nut said he saw an ad in his local paper for St. Joseph Medical Center’s new online heart awareness test. After logging on to and taking the seven-minute test, which includes questions about cholesterol, blood pressure and family history, Mr. Stabb was contacted by a St. Joseph nurse. The nurse explained to him the results of the online test warranted a closer look at his heart. Immediately after his CT scan, Mr. Stabb met with a cardiologist. He had a large amount of calcium built up around his heart and yet he had no symptoms.

“You hear about these people who run marathons and drop dead,” said Mr. Stabb, a parishioner of St. Isaac Jogues, Carney. “There just isn’t much awareness of calcium out there.”

Mr. Stabb explained that the calcium was not the same thing as found in milk. It is thick and can block arteries and cause serious damage to the heart or even death.

“Heart disease is the number one killer of people in this country and your first symptom is normally your last,” said Dr. Stephen Pollock, Chief of Cardiology at St. Joseph, Towson, for the last four years. “This is a huge killer and unfortunately the health care community does nothing to diagnosis it. This test does that and we have treatments that prevent heart attacks and prevent progression of the disease.”

Dr. Pollock, who has been with St. Joseph for 20 years, said this new program and online test are designed to identify those who are at risk and get them the help they need. If the disease is caught early on, the patient can be put on medication and there will be less people dieing or needing surgery, said Dr. Pollock, who has been practicing medicine for 27 years.

This is the case for Mr. Stabb – his calcium score was very high but with a change in his diet and exercise he is on his way back to a healthy heart. He is scheduled for a nuclear treadmill test and the results of that will determine the next step, said Mr. Stabb.

“I was really impressed with the way they did the test, it only took a few minutes and I had someone talking to me right away and showing me pictures and giving me options,” said Mr. Stabb.

Geraldine Shanahan, 64, has a history of heart problems in her family and she smokes. She tries to eat healthy, she gets all of her check-ups regularly and she had no idea she had plaque (calcium) around her arteries. She called St. Joseph after reading about the online test in her local paper. She doesn’t have a computer so the nurse read her the questions over the phone and within no time Ms. Shanahan was scheduled for a CT scan.
With a change in her diet and exercise and a few more tests, Ms. Shanahan will be able to live a longer, fuller life.

“I don’t completely understand heart disease,” said Ms. Shanahan, who after talking to her cardiologist, went to the library to research heart disease. “I would have never thought of having a heart scan. In a way they are saving my life, now it’s up to me to make the changes I need to make.”

From Jan. 1, when the Heart Aware test was placed on the St. Joseph site, until Feb. 14 the website has had 7,114 visitors with 6,297 surveys completed and 1,085 people eligible and enrolled for a CT scan. From January and February, 48 percent of the participants scanned had findings that warranted a physician referral for follow-up care, read a report from St. Joseph.

“If your scores are high enough you will see a cardiologist in 48 hours,” said Jean Seiler, RN, who helps run the Heart Aware program. “A patient can also choose to go to their primary care physician or their own cardiologist.”

According to the St. Joseph Web site, 45 percent of heart attacks occur in people under the age of 65, women’s risk of heart disease increases after menopause and smoking added roughly 10 years of aging to your blood vessels.

“Don’t put your head in the sand and ignore your body,” said Ms. Shanahan.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.