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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • March 2018
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Jane tries ECP therapy in honor of National Heart Month

In honor of February being National Heart Month, I scheduled a vascular screening for the first time. I heard about a new procedure to help heart patients called External Counterpulsation (ECP) and went to Heart Failure Survival Center of America’s (HFSCA) Appleton location to see if I qualified as a candidate to have it done.

The first step was actually the hardest, and it simply involved picking up the phone and making an appointment. I think it is just one of those areas where a person can bury their head in the sand and think “no news is good news,” which is absolutely the wrong approach when it comes to heart disease. No news can be deadly news as one of the first signs of heart disease can actually be a heart attack! Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the United States and I wasn’t willing to take that risk.

From my first phone call the staff at HFSCA was amazing. I asked a lot of questions and they took their time giving me answers and walked me through the process step by step so I would know exactly what to expect when I came in for my appointment.

My first appointment was a vascular screening to make sure there wasn’t any vulnerable plaque in my arteries, or any kind of aneurysms that I might not know were lurking in my body — a thorough ultrasound of my carotid arteries and the arteries in my groin, legs and ankle area. This is done to make sure during the ECP therapy an aneurysm cannot be released. HFSCA also makes sure to go through patients’ health history to assure any treatment won’t impede any ailments. That alone gave me peace of mind!

Once they knew I was good to go for the therapy, I scheduled my first appointment for the following week. Again, they explained what to expect and how I might feel afterward, which was very reassuring.

The purpose of ECP is to help patients who are experiencing angina (chest pain) that is not relieved by taking nitrates, or patients who may not be a candidate for more invasive procedures such as angioplasty, bypass surgery or stenting. ECP is a noninvasive therapy that may help the body to stimulate smaller branches of blood vessels to create a natural bypass around narrowed arteries or those that have blockages. They explained that this is referred to as a revascularization of the coronary arteries.

I didn’t know what to expect and was nervous, so Kaitlin described ECP as “a quick, fast and repetitive bear hug around your calves, thighs and hips all at the same time.” It is done by applying a set of cuffs — just like blood pressure cuffs around the calves, thighs and buttocks. There is an air hose connected to them that inflates and deflates the cuffs. During this time, blood pressure is monitored and electrodes are applied and connected to an electrocardiogram machine so the technician can view the heart’s rhythm during the therapy.

While the cuffs were inflated the “hug” that came and went with the beating of my heart was not uncomfortable at all. The therapy lasted approximately 45 minutes. During this time Kaitlin was in the room with me at all times, observing the data from the monitors and making sure I was comfortable with the pressure.

ECP therapy is an incredible option to help people who have heart disease who are trying to avoid having surgery, but it may not be for everyone. It does require a commitment of time on the patient’s part. Therapy is typically 35 sessions done Monday through Friday for approximately seven weeks. ECP may also be covered by insurance and Medicare but it would be wise to check first with your provider regarding coverage.

My time at HFSCA was very comfortable and reassuring, and Dr. Salem and his staff are very passionate about their work. I would recommend anyone with cardiovascular disease to learn more!

Heart Failure Survival Center of America

2700 E Enterprise Ave Suite B, Appleton


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