Heart disease affects approximately one out of every three people and continues to be the No. 1 killer in the nation, taking more lives than any other disease, including cancer. Because of this hospital networks across the nation are focusing more resources on ways to treat heart and vascular diseases and on helping people not only live through heart attack and stroke but also on ways to make treatments less invasive so recovery time is quicker. And this greatly improves quality of life post surgery.

Kettering Health Network’s Heart and Vascular Care Center is located within the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Heart Hospital at the main campus in Kettering and is working to continually stay on the cutting edge of heart surgery.

Dr. Brian Schwartz, medical director of the Advanced Structural Heart Program at Kettering Medical Center and director of the Heart and Vascular Service Line for the Kettering Health Network, says that the heart hospital’s so called “hybrid lab” allows cardiologists to perform heart surgeries, such as valve replacements, through a catheter instead of having a patient undergo open heart surgery.

“The transcatheter aortic valve replacement has been FDA approved for six years now,” Schwartz says. “We started doing it about five and a half years ago.”

The hybrid lab allows interventional cardiologists to partner with an anesthesiologist and a cardiac surgeon all in one place. Basically, it’s an integration of a catheterization laboratory and an operating room, combining diagnostic imaging equipment with surgical tools.

“When we started we were taking really sick and high-risk patients into the hybrid lab,” Schwartz says. “These cases can turn bad really quickly and at any moment the patient could need to be put on a heart/lung machine or need open heart surgery.”

Normal operating rooms do not generally have the diagnostic equipment that are standard in catheterization labs, nor do these labs have surgical capabilities. This means that patients must be transferred, often in an emergency, to another room that could be several floors away in a hospital.

“In the hybrid lab patients coming in for a procedure are fully awake and alert,” Schwartz says. “Normal procedures are done with a catheter through the groin or in an artery in the arm and are less invasive. But patients can quickly be put under with general (anesthesia) and the surgeon can open them up if needed.”

Hybrid labs have sophisticated state-of-the-art equipment, including CAT scan machines, electrocardiograms and heart scans, allowing physicians to pull up images immediately for a closer, more detailed look at what’s going on with each patient.

Even with the equipment available right inside the hybrid room sometimes patients must still be moved, but Schwartz says this is very rare. Only two patients have needed emergency open heart surgery and one has needed to go on a heart/lung machine since the hybrid lab opened.

“Everything is right here in the lab,” Schwartz says. “We performed those two open heart surgeries without moving the patient. Surgeons have everything they need right here.”

Though the basic percentage of patients that go on to need open heart surgery has not changed much having the more state-of-the-art hybrid facility available and designed specifically for this purpose has put Kettering Health Network on the forefront of heart and vascular treatment.

“There are other hybrid labs out there but ours is probably one of the top 10 in the country,” Schwartz says. “Groups come from other hospitals to look at what we are doing here in Dayton.”

Today most heart disease procedures are treated in a catheterization lab, but valve repairs or replacements or repairing holes in the heart have generally required open heart surgery. Now most of the heart and vascular patients can be treated in the less invasive hybrid lab setting.

“We were doing about 100 cases when we opened the lab and it’s increasing every year,” Schwartz says. “We did about 150 this year and next year we expect 200.”

To get an idea of what less invasive really means when it comes to heart surgery Schwartz says that just five years ago patients with valve conditions, like aortic stenosis, could expect a four- to six-hour operation during which their chests would be cracked open and afterward an average six-day stay in the hospital. Recovery time could last as long as six months, during which patients could not usually return to work.

“Now our patients are awake and talking throughout the procedure,” Schwartz says. “They are usually sitting in a chair four hours later and they can go home the next day. They have no restrictions after five days post surgery.”

Schwartz says that patients continue to be amazed at their quick recovery times and that the hybrid lab has revolutionized the way people are treated for valvular problems.

“Our very first patient had her procedure done on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and went home Thursday morning,” Schwartz says. “She showed up at church on Sunday and everyone asked her why she was there. That’s how rapidly people recover.”

Schwartz says the network is planning a second hybrid lab over the next few years, directly across from the current lab. And the current lab is continually updated and equipped with the latest X-ray and diagnostic equipment to ensure all patients have an opportunity for minimally invasive procedures, even those with severe defects.

“I’d like to emphasize that it’s not the lab that makes this possible,” Schwartz says. “It also adds safety and capability to make newer, cutting-edge procedures available. And it gives cardiologists and surgeons advanced equipment to offer patients the opportunity to get their hearts fixed and move on with their lives as quickly as possible.”