Lethbridge doctors call for life-saving cardiac treatment across Alberta

Doctors in Lethbridge, Alta., are renewing calls to offer a life-saving treatment for heart attack patients in more places.

Rural heart attack patients take clot-busting drugs, ambulance to Calgary, Edmonton

The AHS report says continuing with the current model for cardiac services in Alberta is 'not considered viable.' (Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)

Doctors in Lethbridge, Alta., are renewing calls to offer a life-saving treatment for heart attack patients in more places.

Right now, only Calgary and Edmonton have cardiac catheterization labs, or "cath labs," as they're called.

Cardiac catheterization allows doctors to remove deadly heart blockages and also diagnose problems. Without this, patients must be treated with clot-busting drugs and then sent by ambulance to either city.

A recent report from Alberta Health Services found rural Albertans had a higher heart attack mortality, and that both Lethbridge and Red Deer had enough need to warrant their own cath labs.

But months later, there's been no promise that Lethbridge will see such a lab in the future, and that worries Dr. Sayeh Zielke, the only cardiologist at the southern Alberta city's Chinook Regional Hospital.

"We don't want to be forgotten," the doctor said Wednesday. "We think this is important to our patients. We think this is very important to our community. We feel strongly that we need this."

Open letter, multiple calls

Physicians from Chinook Regional Hospital have sent an open letter to Premier Rachel Notley, asking for funding for the service.

The demand comes as Alberta is poised to enter an election season but doctors have been asking for such a service in Lethbridge for close to a decade.

Dr. Lee Oviatt, internal specialist at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, says a cardiac catheterization lab would offer southern Albertans equal healthcare to those living in Calgary and Edmonton. (Submitted by Dr. Lee Oviatt)

Doctors believe the service will help more people survive heart attacks, said Dr. Lee Oviatt, an internal medicine specialist in Lethbridge.

"We want to do everything we can to ensure that our patients have available therapies on their doorstep rather than an ambulance ride away," he said.

The province announced funding for Red Deer's hospital expansion earlier this month, at which point Notley said a cath lab was being seriously considered for the central Alberta city — if the NDP are re-elected.

Determining 'appropriate next steps'

In a statement to CBC News, Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said her government commissioned the AHS cardiac services report in order to "determine the appropriate next steps to support cardiac patients in their home communities."

"Cardiac care is an important service and, as government, our goal has been to provide Albertans with care closer to home," she said.

Dr. Sayeh Zielke is the only cardiologist in Lethbridge, Alta. (Jodi O Photography)

Zielke said she hopes Lethbridge will see a commitment, too, and noted that her hospital already has space available to accommodate the service.

"We feel that people are at least listening to us," she said. "I am frustrated that our patients that we serve… doesn't have access to the care that they should have locally."

Read the letter from the doctors:

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With files from Jennifer Lee


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