Cardiac care closer to home at Heart Institute

The 15-month-old Oak Hill Hospital facility performs its 100th open-heart surgery.

Published May 20, 2007

SPRING HILL - At Oak Hill Hospital's Heart Institute, Christopher Thieme is known as No. 100.

He's the 100th patient to undergo open-heart surgery at the hospital's year-old center - the only cardiac treatment and diagnostic facility in Hernando County.

The 59-year-old Brooksville resident had only been in Florida with his wife, Janice, for a year when he began having severe shortness of breath. And he wasn't sure what to expect from an unfamiliar hospital.

Oak Hill opened the doors to its $8.5-million state-of-the-art unit in February 2006. The 24, 000-square-foot Heart Institute includes a catheterization lab, a surgical suite and a post-operative intensive-care unit with 10 rooms.

Last year, 67 patients underwent open-heart surgery in one of two operating rooms dedicated to the procedure. By the time he came along for treatment this year, Thieme, a retired Jackson, N.J., police officer, was scheduled to be the 100th on March 27.

"You know, in New Jersey I knew people I could have asked for doctor recommendations," Thieme said. "That wasn't the case here. But my reservations going in were surpassed by the treatment I got coming out."

After his bypass surgery, Thieme was out of the hospital and back home recuperating in three days.

"The doctors, the nurses, the staff, everyone seemed to really care about me and what they were doing at the hospital," Thieme said. "I think, along with the decent health I was in going into surgery, it helped me recover faster."

Along with providing patients such as Thieme the best cardiac care possible, the goal of the Heart Institute has been to first give residents the opportunity to have any heart procedure - coronary stenting, catheterizations, angioplasty, balloon pump therapy - done closer to home, said Samantha Wood, director of cardiovascular services.

"You can have your open-heart surgery in your back yard," Wood said. "It's opened up so much availability."

The average age of surgery patients has been 70 years old, Wood said, with a pretty even mix of men and women. One of the most common procedures is the same one Thieme had, where a vein from the leg is used to bypass blocked vessels in the heart.

A specialized staff of nurses, anesthesiologists, perfusionists, physician assistants and surgical technicians are always on call. A team of four surgeons who also work at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, a sister HCA facility, perform all procedures at Oak Hill.

And along with the medical staff, the hospital has also been able to increase the quality of care with better equipment.

Take a peek inside an open-heart operating room and you will find flat computer panels, a machine that provides minute-by-minute lab results, and special lightweight lighting that keeps shadows from blocking a surgeon's view of a patient's heart.

The sixth-floor intensive-care units, where patients are brought for an average recovery of five days, is kept calm and quiet, with more specialized staff to care for them.

After having a heart procedure done at the hospital, Wood said, patients are coached on the topics of diet, exercise and other ways to improve their health.

"It's a very holistic program," she said.

For Thieme, who is back in the gym five days a week and continuing with his daily walks and bike rides, his experience at Oak Hill has made him think highly of the Heart Institute.

"I got a lot of support and care from my wife at home, but I don't think I would be feeling so well if it weren't for the care I got in the hospital, " Thieme said. "I wouldn't recommend having the surgery to just anybody, but if you got to do this, Oak Hill is the place to go."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.