Don't underestimate the healing power of home. Dr. Donald McSweyn knows being close to home can be an important factor for patients who need heart procedures.
But until recently, an out-of-town trip was what Lawrence Memorial Hospital doctors had to prescribe for patients requiring the increasingly common procedure of angioplasty, which widens narrowed arteries using balloons and stents.
That changed, though, in November. Doctors at LMH began offering the procedure on a limited basis and are planning to offer even more advanced emergency angioplasty procedures, eliminating the need for a time-consuming trip via air ambulance to a hospital in Kansas City.
"That adds about an hour onto the process," said McSweyn, who is chief doctor for the LMH program. "But I'm sure that hour seems much longer to the patient."
The reduced time is important in emergency cases, but McSweyn said having the service available in Lawrence made it much more likely many residents would have the procedure done before it became a life-and-death situation.
That's because McSweyn said some people would not have the procedure because they did not like the idea of being hospitalized in another city.
"It is much easier if we can tell a patient that they can stay here in town, and that it will be easy for their family and friends to be here," McSweyn said. "Patients, especially elderly patients, feel much more comfortable with that than saying we are going to send you to another city. A lot of times they just don't follow through with it in that situation."
Gene Meyer, the hospital's president and CEO, said LMH recognized the need. He said adding the program - much like how the hospital started an oncology program for cancer patients about two years ago - was part of a larger strategy of keeping Lawrence residents at home for key health care needs.
"The fact that we can do this procedure in Lawrence, we believe, is a big advantage to the community and the hospital," Meyer said.
The hospital is partnering with Kansas City, Mo.-based Cardiovascular Consultants to offer the services. The Kansas City company provides doctors and support staff to perform the services. The hospital chose Cardiovascular Consultants, Meyer said, partly because the company has operated a medical office in Lawrence for years.
Meyer said he expected the hospital to perform 175 to 200 angioplasty procedures per year. Thus far, Meyer said the hospital is on track to meet those projections.
McSweyn - who came to Lawrence after performing angioplasty procedures in Las Vegas for the last 13 years - said the Lawrence program probably would experience significant growth over the years. He estimated angioplasty numbers nationwide had increased by nearly 50 percent during the last decade.
Part of that is due to the aging of the American population, and part can be attributed to the improved technology that makes the procedure feasible for more people. But a large reason, McSweyn said, is that heart problems are no longer just for the elderly. He said the Lawrence program already had seen a patient as young as 34 years old.
"People have more of the risk factors than they used to," McSweyn said. "Obesity is a problem. We see all types of people in here anymore."