Hearts & Minds
Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto Cardiologist Dr. Yaser Cheema speaks on life and death in the stroke belt
Interview by Casey Hilder
In the state of Mississippi, heart health is a matter of life or death. According to the American Heart Association, 25 percent of all deaths in Mississippi are attributed to heart disease.
Dr. Yaser Cheema, a Stern Cardiovascular cardiologist practicing at Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto, is leading the charge to detect issues earlier and pioneer newer, less invasive methods of treatment. Dr. Cheema’s goals align with the rest of the cardiovascular specialists at Baptist DeSoto, a hospital that ranks among the fastest response rates to cardiac problems in the country, averaging 30 minutes faster than the national best practice benchmark. Dr. Cheema performs around 25 to 30 heart procedures per month, averaging nearly a life a day saved.
“The earlier you open the artery, the better it is in the end,” Cheema says. “Time is muscle, and in these situations you are losing muscle by the minute. Every second counts.”
Click Magazine: Mississippi is, without a doubt, a hotbed for heart disease. How does local treatment and detection compare to the rest of the country?
Yaser Cheema: Mississippi has consistently been among the places in the U.S. with the lowest life expectancy rates — that’s a hard fact. We know that heart disease is a major contributor. However, in the past 20 years, the number of major heart attacks in the United States has actually decreased due to improved technology and cholesterol lowering medications. However, with people in this area, the demographics continue to be very different. One of my very first patients in this hospital was a 38-year-old gentleman who already had a stent somewhere else and had underwent a three-vessel coronary bypass just a few months before. The national statistics are one thing, but our local statistics are another. We remain among the heart-unhealthiest state in the region, right along the “stroke belt.”
CM: What sets the cardiovascular team at Baptist Memorial-DeSoto apart from the crowd in terms of treatment?
YC: As of now, we are the only hospital in the area, including the Memphis metro area, where you go in to get a stent, it is administered through the arm instead of the legs. This is sort of the new order as far as medical techniques go. Research has shown that patients with stents through the arms usually show better outcomes. It’s also easier for recovery. This is known as radial artery catheterization and we are the undisputed leaders in the area. It’s technically a more challenging, newer procedure, but it’s our preferred way of doing things.
CM: Who led the charge for this new way of doing things?
YC: All of us took it on as an initiative here, it was really a team decision that led to a team effort based on medical evidence. We have a relatively young, more energetic group working here, so we decided to take this challenge and move forward.
CM: Does your team focus more on treatment or prevention?
YC: Emergency care is one thing, but we don’t look for this. We really try to keep the problem at bay before the trouble happens with good medical therapy and good testing. The last thing we want is for a patient to end up on the table with a sudden heart attack.
CM: What are some frequently used methods of early detection?
YC: The blood vessels and the arteries of the body are just one system. If someone has problems there, there are likely problems with the carotid arteries and circulation in the lower limbs. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history and blocked arteries can all be identified in advance to save many limbs, hearts and brains.
CM: What are some of the biggest health issues faced by people in this region?
YC: Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) and peripheral vascular disease (PVD) are big concerns here. These terms are interchangeable and basically refer to a change in the blood flow of the body. Oftentimes, the treatment for these requires amputation, and the amputation rates of the lower limbs here are one of the highest in the country here. However, about 40 to 50 percent of amputations have never undergone an angiogram to make sure that the procedure is absolutely necessary, or if there is a less invasive possible solution. We are looking to change that.
CM: What are some things the team at Baptist-DeSoto is doing to tackle this problem in 2016?
YC: Baptist is making a large investment in 2016 for a PAD program to offer tests through partner clinics in the region, as well as at Baptist Memorial-DeSoto and Stern Cardiovascular. It’s a simple two-minute test through mobile equipment and can go a long way toward detecting problems and preventing limb loss. This is what we like to call primary prevention – these are the things that keep people from undergoing larger, more invasive surgeries.