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SCL Health Montana Keeps Montana's Hearts Beating Strong

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Innovations in heart care are helping people live longer, heal faster and enjoy a better quality of life. Kelly Smarsh of Laurel, Montana, knows this first hand based on his recent experience at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings. 

"If it weren’t for my care team doing what they did, I probably wouldn't be here today," said Smarsh, 80, who sought treatment for congestive heart failure at St. Vincent. "It made a world of difference in my life." 

While open-heart surgery is often a more common treatment, it may not be an option for patients like Smarsh due to a number of factors. However, when reviewing his case, Smarsh’s care team determined that he was an ideal candidate for two less-invasive procedures: transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) and a MitraClip Transcatheter Mitral Valve Repair. Smarsh had the TAVR procedure about a year and a half ago and followed it with a MitraClip procedure 40 days later. The results were life-altering. 

"Before the surgery, it got to where I could hardly breathe," he said. "I couldn't do anything. I had no energy. We have five acres where we live, and as I got weaker, it was hard to get the lawn mowed and keep up with the fences. I just had to cut so many things short." 

After both procedures, Smarsh spent just a single night in the hospital. 

"The recovery time was nothing," he said. "I kept working with their [team]. I felt so much better right away. It was nothing at all compared to if they had to open me up." 

Smarsh says he feels "15 or 20 years younger." He and his wife have begun to travel again, and he is back to walking his vast property. 
According to the hospital's survey, patients who undergo a TAVR procedure see their quality of life improve by more than 90% on average. 

Expanding access 
Previously reserved for patients at elevated risk for traditional valve surgery, St. Vincent now provides this life-altering, innovative and minimally invasive alternative for patients with severe, symptomatic calcific aortic stenosis. 

The St. Vincent team recently performed its 100th MitraClip procedure, placing it among the country’s top 10 percent of hospitals. Next milestone on the horizon, the 300th TAVR procedure. 

"We do these [procedures] with the heart surgeons," said Dr. Robert Terry, an interventional cardiologist at St. Vincent. "Patients come to the hospital one day, and they usually go home the next day. They must allow the groin to heal, so [they are limited to] light activity for a week. And then they're back to full activity." 

Bringing care across Montana 
"One thing that makes St. Vincent and our programs exemplary, we're part of a larger health system," said Dr. Terry. "For some of these procedures, we can work with our colleagues in Denver, Colorado. So we have the advantage of being in a larger system that helps to bring technology to our market faster." 

SCL Health's facilities offer continuity of care that other health systems in the region may not. "It's a huge advantage to our patients. We can have them go to any one of our hospitals and know they are going to get top-notch care," said Kevin Dennehy, St. James Healthcare, Vice President of Business Development Strategies and SCL Health's Lead for Montana Cardiovascular Services. 

All three SCL Health facilities in Montana have cardiac catheterization labs and perform tests and minimally invasive procedures. If a patient needs a higher level of care due to a more severe condition, the teams at St. James in Butte and Holy Rosary in Miles City have streamlined processes to ensure a safe and easy transfer to St. Vincent. 

"Our philosophy at SCL Health is we want to keep healthcare close to home,” Dennehy stated. “With St. Vincent, we can send our patients from Butte or Miles City to Billings and still have them close to home for a better recovery." 

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A patient-centric approach 
SCL Health takes an individualized approach to treating a wide range of heart and vascular conditions, including arrhythmia and heart rhythm disorders, atrial fibrillation, congenital heart defects, heart attacks, heart failure, heart valve disease, pulmonary hypertension and arterial vascular disease. 

The first step in treating cardiovascular patients is to make sure they know what's happening in their bodies. 

"It's essential for the patient and their family to understand what's going on," Dr. Terry said. "Often, this can be very frightening to them." So he explains everything in everyday language, so they have a good understanding. 

From there, Dr. Terry says he and his patients discuss treatment options. Those options often involve a procedure or medications, though lifestyle modifications are also on the table. 

In his conversations with patients, Dr. Terry highlights that patients have complete control over their course of treatment. Sometimes that means opting not to have a procedure and doing what is possible to improve quality of life. 

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Making patients feel comfortable 
"It just felt like they cared," Smarsh said. "It was a fantastic experience — all of it. Entering the hospital, they made sure you were comfortable. Then, when you go in for surgery, all the doctors and nurses check in on you. Everybody was fantastic to work with." 
To learn more about cardiovascular services in your area, visit SCLHealth.org or call 866-877-4325.