Boscobel Area Health Care recently announced the availability of a new procedure for relieving angina pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, and other symptoms associated with coronary artery disease called Enhanced External Counterpulsation therapy (EECP®). The painless, non-invasive procedure is designed to improve blood flow to the heart and is administered on an outpatient basis for seven weeks.
“We have treated patients suffering from both heart disease and peripheral vascular disease and they’re doing wonderfully,” said Dr. Thomas Pelz, Chief of Medical Staff and Medical Director of the center’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. “The benefit I’ve seen from EECP is that the patients’ functional capabilities have dramatically improved.”
EECP services began in Boscobel thanks to the dedication of heart patient Lois Knoble and a donation from Boscobel Area Health Care Foundation. “I had so much success with EECP. I felt better after just a few days,” said Knoble, who had to travel more than an hour for treatments. She talked to cardiac rehab manager Theresa Braudt and Dr. Pelz about beginning EECP in Boscobel.
Need for service
“We knew there was a need for this service, and that no other hospital in the Grant, Crawford, or Richland County area was providing EECP,” said Theresa Braudt, RN, Cardio-Pulmonary Rehab Services Manager.
“It is particularly beneficial for patients who are not able to withstand surgery. This gives them another option for care,” said Braudt. EECP is an option for patients with stable and unstable angina, congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction, and carcinogenic shock.
“Heart patients who have previously undergone surgery and angioplasties and are unable to receive further invasive procedures can receive relief from most of their symptoms with EECP therapy,” said Dr. Pelz. “In about 75 to 80 percent of cases, EECP is an effective way to fix patients with ‘unfixable’ heart disease.”
Knoble was a prime candidate for EECP, whose allergy to aspirin and the location of her blockage made surgery too big of a risk. “I couldn’t have a stent or a bypass, which left me with very few options…I needed to do something. I had severe blockage on the right artery, and several additional areas of blockage.”
Knoble’s condition interfered with her daily activities. “I was tired all the time. I couldn’t even walk the length of my house. I had to sit down several times just trying to vacuum.”
After one week of EECP treatment, Knoble stopped having chest pain. She was also able to resume regular activities. “I have completely changed my lifestyle. The treatment helped restore my strength and energy, which meant I was able to walk outside and use the treadmill more. Before, I couldn’t even climb my stairs, let alone exercise.”
Gary Blackbourn, one of the first patients to receive EECP treatment at BAHC, was also considered high risk for surgery. Instead of undergoing a triple bypass, his cardiologist recommended trying weight loss and cardiac rehab first, with surgery held in reserve if nothing else worked.
Lost 50 pounds
Blackbourn was able to lose 50 pounds through the combination of EECP and Cardiac Rehab. “I was making progress in cardiac rehab, but it was slow. I was just so exhausted… it was a struggle just to get here. Once I started EECP, my energy increased and my pain disappeared, which made cardiac rehab easier and it worked better.”
“It’s like baseball. You need to get to first base before you can get to second. I had to deal with my pain and fatigue before I could exercise and lose weight. EECP was that boost to first base,” explained Blackbourn.
Blackbourn’s weight and heart issues greatly affected his personal life. “I took a nap everyday. I could barely mow the lawn.” Now Gary says he looks forward to exercise. “Exercise puts me in a good mood now instead of wearing me out. If I put off exercise, I feel like I have missed something.”
Blackbourns’s lifestyle change has paid off. “My cardiologist no longer sees a triple bypass in my future, and believes I will soon be able to go off my medications.”
EECP is a non-invasive, outpatient service. “The treatment involves 35 sessions, which is why it is so important to offer it locally. Travel out-of-town 35 times would make this treatment all but impossible for many patients,” said Braudt.
Dr. Pelz said that during EECP treatment the patient reclines on a comfortable table while his calves and thighs are wrapped in compressible cuffs which are inflated and deflated in time to the patient’s own heart beat. “The squeezing of the lower body during the heart’s resting phase drives blood upward and activates a network of collateral arteries which route blood past the restricted coronary arteries and into the oxygen-starved heart tissues,” said Dr. Pelz.
Funding for the EECP equipment and training was provided by the Boscobel Area Health Care Foundation. “The Foundation Board is dedicated to programs like this that will increase services offered locally and help improve the quality of life for members of our community,” said Barbara Woods, Foundation Director.