VALDOSTA -- A recent addition at South Georgia Medical Center enhances the diagnoses of cardiac abnormalities.

This week, officials opened a $1.2 million technologically-advanced, all-digital cardiac catheterization laboratory. Housed in the Dasher Memorial Heart Center, the laboratory is the medical center's second. The first one opened in May 2001 at a cost of approximately $900,000. "SGMC has acquired one of the most technologically advanced systems in cardiac catheterization currently available anywhere," said Dr. Terry Tri, chief of cardiology services and SGMC affiliated cardiologist.

The diagnostic laboratories are equipped with the flat plate General Electric Innova 2000 All-Digital Cardiovascular X-ray Imaging System. Compared to pre-digital film technology, this system helps cardiologists see the heart more clearly, reduces radiation exposure to the patient and staff, and decreases procedure time.

"The results are instantaneous," said Dr. Richard Nijem, SGMC affiliated cardiologist often referred to as Valdosta's first cardiologist. "That's better for our patients."

The Innova 2000's Revolution digital detector reads X-rays passing through the patient's body, creating an immediate image on a high resolution monitor.

Nijem, who performed the area's first cardiac catheterization procedure more than two decades ago, said the improved technology turned a two-hour procedure into a half-hour one.

"This new technology enables faster procedures, requires less radiation exposure, and gives us the ability to see details ... better than ever," said Dr. Glenn Evans, interventional cardiologist medical director and SGMC affiliated cardiologist, echoing the sentiments of Tri and Nijem.

Tri said the new and improved laboratories are a much-needed addition to the medical center. In 1994, when he arrived in Valdosta, SGMC preformed around 200 cardiac catheterizations, he said.

"The growth we have experienced since then is incredible," Tri added. "This past year, we saw about 2,000 cases."

Prior to the existence of the Dasher Memorial Heart Center, which saw its first open-heart surgery patients in November 2001, many of those individuals were forced to seek treatment elsewhere.

"Before we opened the heart center, we would have to tell patients they have a problem that requires this to correct," said Laura Fiveash, R.N., director of cardiology services at SGMC. "Now, we are able to tell them they have a problem and we can fix it."

Cardiac catheterization is a highly specialized procedure that provides doctors with information regarding the location and size of a patient's coronary arteries, any blockages in those arteries, the presence of any collateral blood vessels, the health of the heart muscle and valves, and the presence of any aneurysms and abnormal blood flow in the heart.

It involves the insertion of a special catheter into the patient's groin or arm, which is then threaded through a blood vessel to the heart. Once the catheter is in place, dye is injected into the coronary arteries. X-rays record this, providing doctors with a clear picture of any cardiac abnormalities. Using this information, the doctor is able to diagnose and determine the best treatment, which may include medication, surgery, angioplasty, stents, and a change in lifestyle and eating habits.

For information, please contact South Georgia Medical Center's Dasher Memorial Heart Center at 259-4340.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope,please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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