It was an delicate procedure that had to be followed, explained Lawrence cardiologist Dr. John Hiebert.
Before the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees could approve almost $2 million in construction costs and equipment purchases for a new special procedures room at the hospital, Hiebert needed to have a partner.
"You can't have a laboratory that is totally dependent on one person," he said. "If something happened to that person, you've got all that equipment . . ."
But conversely, Hiebert said, attracting a partner depended on having the special procedures room where cardiac catheterization and other cardiovascular procedures could be done.
"And could the community support two cardiologists?" Hiebert asked. "For this to happen, the bottom line was that the service was needed in the community. That's the underpinning of it all."
That need has since been proved.
CONSTRUCTION of the special procedures lab was approved by the hospital board in 1989, and it went on line in late June. Since then more than 100 patients have been tested with the new cardiovascular imaging system, which is used to identify blockages in blood vessels leading to the heart, said Dr. Scott Smith, the cardiologist who became Hiebert's partner. He moved to Lawrence in July.
And he said many more patients have undergone other diagnostic care that can be done in the new lab.
"We're well ahead of projected utilization," Smith said during a recent interview at the special procedures room. "Obviously, people in a town that's growing as rapidly as Lawrence would prefer to have their care done here."
Smith emphasized that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and cardiac catheterization is the best diagnostic tool for heart vessel disorders.
A NATIVE of Kansas City, Mo., who came to Lawrence from Houston, Smith said construction of the laboratory was a factor in his decision to come to Lawrence.
"I knew they were putting in a lab, but still it never really dawned on me the quality" of the equipment, Smith said. "This is amazing equipment, the best stuff I've ever seen."
Hiebert, who has worked in cardiology labs throughout the Kansas City and Topeka areas, echoed Smith's praise.
"I personally think this lab has the finest equipment I've ever used," he said.
LMH plans an open house to show off the new special procedures room to the public Sept. 30.
The new laboratory also was instrumental in attracting Dr. David Fortin, an invasive radiologist who formerly headed the diagostic radiology department at St. Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. Fortin joined the LMH staff July 1.
FORTIN'S work in the special procedures laboratory involves angiography, or tracing blood clots in other veins besides those leading directly to the heart.
All the procedures in the new lab are designed to look for blockages in the cardiovascular system, and all involve inserting a catheter in a vein to look for the blockages.
Fortin called the new lab "first-rate and very sophisticated," and said it is comparable to equipment he used at St. Luke's.
"It's exceeded my expectations," he added.
Robert Ohlen, chief executive officer at LMH, said that recent technological changes, which enable hospital equipment to do both cardiology and radiology work, were major factors in LMH being able to put in such a laboratory.
"What allowed us to get into it was the availablity of the technology," he said, pointing out that the hospital first began planning for the new lab back in the early 1980s.
ALTHOUGH Ohlen said treatments offered in the new lab will cost about the same in Lawrence as in Topeka and Kansas City, the improvement for patients will come with convenience.
Hiebert agreed. Having the equipment in Lawrence, he said, "ends the difficulty of dislocating the patient to and from other communities in order to get this kind of care."
And Hiebert said having the finest equipment for diagnosis also can improve patient care. He pointed to one case in which a patient was having a heart attack while undergoing heart catheterization at LMH. But, using equipment in the new lab, the LMH staff was able to break up a blockage and prevent a more serious heart attack.
"That was not planned, but it is an example of how having the finest of diagnostic equipment can improve the outcome," he said.
HIEBERT said the team of four technicians that run the lab with the doctors also have proved that they can work well together.
Smith said because of the nature of the procedures done in the lab, things can get very tense.
"You never know how good they are until you're able to see their skills under very difficult circumstances, when you're trying to keep a patient alive," Smith said. "I was absolutely delighted."