Dr. Frank Laws

Expanding heart care fills an important rural void

This article first appeared in the Post Independent on February 14, 2019

Living in the rural Western Slope region of Colorado sometimes requires sacrificing things that people have access to in larger cities, but Valley View Hospital is making sure that healthcare is not one of those things.

The Heart & Vascular Center at Valley View offers services in Grand Junction, Eagle, Glenwood Springs, Meeker, Rangely, Rifle and Battlement Mesa, providing essential care for patients in the region suffering from heart disease. This care is so important for a region that would otherwise have to drive to Denver or Salt Lake City for care.

Atrial fibrillation, commonly referred to as AFib, is a common heart condition that has a higher than average prevalence along the rural Western Slope because of the high altitude. “High altitude can also lead to sleep apnea, a modifiable risk factor of Afib,” said Dr. Frank Laws, Electrophysiologist and Interventional Cardiologist at the Heart & Vascular Center.

“The longer someone has to wait to be treated; the more resistant the heart becomes to having a successful ablation,” Dr. Laws said. “The ability for patients to see providers that live and work alongside them in the community is part of the appeal of living in a rural area.”

Atrial fibrillation causes and treatment

The American Heart Association reports that more than 2.7 million Americans are living with AFib, which can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other complications.

“In atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart experience chaotic electrical signals, and quiver as a result,” Dr. Laws said. “The electrical connection between the atria and the ventricles in the heart is inundated with impulses, leading to

Dr. Frank Laws, Electrophysiologist and Interventional Cardiologist at Valley View’s Heart & Vascular Center.

a fast and irregular heart rhythm.”

AFib can happen to people of any age, but aging does increase its risk. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, underlying heart disease, drinking alcohol, family history, sleep apnea, being an athlete and other chronic medical conditions, according to the American Heart Association. Dr. Laws said other conditions might include congenital defects, an overactive thyroid, lung disease, prior heart surgeries, heart attacks, viral infections, stress due to pneumonia, surgery or illness, and exposure to stimulants such as caffeine and tobacco.

“When left untreated, patients have a five times higher chance of having a stroke and are at greater risk of heart failure,” Dr. Laws said.

Symptoms include palpitations, which are symptoms of a racing, uncomfortable, irregular heartbeat or a flip-flopping in the chest, he said. People might also feel weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath and chest pain.

AFib can be treated with blood thinners or other anticoagulant medications, but when medication is ineffective, Dr. Laws says an ablation may be necessary. This outpatient procedure is minimally invasive.

“Different types of ablation include radiofrequency ablation, cryo ablation and laser ablation, Dr. Laws said. “The Heart & Vascular Center will be the first center in Colorado to perform a laser ablation for the treatment of atrial fibrillation, on a patient later this month.”

Valley View’s expanding heart care

The Heart and Vascular Center at Valley View is expanding with additional services and staff to meet the growing demand for cardiology services on the Western Slope, Dr. Laws said. New physicians include interventional cardiologist Dr. Qaisar Khan and minimally invasive cardiothoracic surgeons Dr. John Mehall and Dr. Patrick Rudersdorf.

“With the addition of these physicians and their unique skill sets, we have rolled out several new procedures, including the left atrial appendage clip, minimally invasive thoracotomies, complex atrial fibrillation ablations utilizing the convergent plus approach, and complex lower extremity venous ablations,” Dr. Laws said.

The hybrid cardiac catheterization lab also continues to push the scope of services offered by the Heart and Vascular Center. The Center has also recently been identified as a preferred site for the Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their bloodless protocols.

“With minimally invasive and bloodless procedures now becoming the standard of care,” Dr. Laws said, “we have the tools and staff necessary to treat some of the most complex of heart cases.”