Newswise — CHICAGO – Northwestern Medicine’s Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program recently received accreditation from the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) as a Comprehensive Care Center, the highest level of recognition that it offers medical centers that treat patients with pulmonary hypertension, a debilitating disease of the lungs that affects the functioning of the heart and can lead to heart failure.
Led by Stuart Rich, MD, a pioneer in the treatment of pulmonary hypertension, the Pulmonary Vascular Disease Program is part of Northwestern Medicine’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute.
“There is an urgent need for medical institutions to accurately diagnose, treat and provide support for pulmonary hypertension patients,” said Dr. Rich, who is also a professor of medicine-cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Our hope is that this accreditation helps us connect with healthcare professionals throughout the United States to ensure that more people living with pulmonary hypertension receive the correct diagnosis early and that they will get the very best care available.”
With symptoms that include breathlessness, fatigue, dizziness, swollen ankles, fluid in the abdomen and chest pain, pulmonary hypertension patients may see several physicians before they receive an accurate diagnosis. The survival rate for patients who go untreated is less than three years. In addition, many patients are hospitalized due to complications and some require transplantation if therapies do not work. Pulmonary hypertension is a distinct condition from hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Carol Mazur, 61, of suburban Chicago, has pulmonary hypertension from a congenital heart defect that went undetected until she was 23 years old. When she was 38 years old, and the mother of two young children, she was told she had no more than five years to live because of the disease.
Looking for a second opinion, she met with Dr. Rich. He has now treated her for more than two decades.
Mazur described Dr. Rich as “really just open and honest.”
“I have such great faith in the way he treats me,” she said. “He looks at me as a whole person, not just as some little case. He’s very calm and patient and smart in a practical way about what you should or should not do, or worry about or not worry about.”
In its nearly 25 years, PHA’s work has led to significant advances in pulmonary hypertension care. However, the association continues to fight for earlier and more accurate diagnosis. There are several causes of pulmonary hypertension, but because this is an uncommon disease, patients are often misdiagnosed or mistreated.
The PHA established this high-level recognition so that patients might know which centers have extraordinary expertise in this uncommon and fatal condition to improve overall quality of care and ultimately improve outcomes of patients with pulmonary hypertension, a rare and life-threatening group of diseases. Patients entering these centers can feel confident that they have been vetted by a rigorous process that includes a detailed application and a comprehensive site visit with ultimate adjudication by a committee of more than 20 health professionals with vast experience in caring for PH patients.
Northwestern’s program was specifically acknowledged for its director’s dedication to pulmonary hypertension as evidenced by his record of teaching and research efforts, excellent multidisciplinary team cohesion and communication providing comprehensive services and high quality care, and a support staff that is fully engaged in the care of their patients.
“At the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute, we are always looking for the most advanced and most effective treatments for cardiovascular disease in its many forms,” said Patrick McCarthy, MD, executive director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. “Our cardiovascular care, from treatment of myocardial infarction to bypass surgery to pulmonary hypertension, is distinguished by a variety of different measures, including this recognition.”
The Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute is part of the Northwestern Medicine health system, with multiple sites of care in Chicago and the region. Northwestern Memorial Hospital currently is ranked first in the United States for heart failure survival and second for survival of heart attack and stroke, the three most dire cardiovascular health threats. Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s heart and heart surgery is ranked sixth nationally and first in Chicago, Illinois and the surrounding states by U.S. News & World Report.
For more information or to make an appointment with a cardiovascular specialist, visit heart.nm.org.
For more information about Northwestern Medicine, visit news.nm.org/about-northwestern-medicine.html.