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Second Chances at UW Health Heart and Vascular Care

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Dr. Niloo Edwards, UW Health Heart and Vascular Care surgeon, Madison, WisconsinMADISON - There's nothing more we can do for you.

Without question, it's the most difficult thing a physician ever has to say to a patient facing a life-threatening cardiovascular disease – the point at which the battle appears lost, the options exhausted.

But in an era in which medical science and surgical technique is advancing more quickly than at any other point in history, there's often another chance – and when other centers have said "no," the experts who are part of UW Hospital and Clinics' Heart and Vascular Care program can hold out the possibility of "yes."

"One of the strengths of an academic medical center such as ours is that it's often a court of last resort for patients who have exhausted their options elsewhere," says Niloo Edwards, MD, the chairman of cardiothoracic surgery at UW Hospital and Clinics. "Our mission is to stay ahead of the curve in terms of new innovations and technologies."

And they have, on a wide range of diseases. The gamut of options available to patients at UW Hospital and Clinics includes robotic surgery for mitral valve replacement, MAZE procedures for atrial fibrillation, and thoracic artery grafts for aortic dissection aneurysm, just to name a few.

Expertise in a variety of disciplines is what makes it possible.

"We can say to a patient, 'You may not be a candidate for bypass surgery, but you are a candidate for a laser technique or a heart transplant,'" says Edwards. "Because we offer a wide spectrum of options, we can tailor things to the patient."

Consider heart failure, a condition that often renders patients too sick to be considered candidates for stents, complex heart surgery or transplant. For these patients, UW Hospital offers a robust ventricular assist device (VAD) program that features the latest percutaneous pumps from Impella and TandemHeart to help stabilize a patient's condition prior to surgery. For patients for whom surgery is no longer an option, UW also offers left ventricular assist devices as a destination therapy.

"This range of services doesn't exist in other centers, even bigger ones," says Amish Raval, MD, an associate processor of cardiovascular medicine with UW School of Medicine and Public Health. "Nobody else has these devices."

On other fronts, ongoing research holds out a different sort of hope. Raval is working on healing advanced heart disease using regenerative medicine. Raval is currently presiding over several clinical trials involving the use of stem cells to regenerate damaged heart tissue. While stem cell therapy isn't an option for every patient, within the next year, Raval is expected to launch several more trials, and is also looking at launching a specialized clinic aimed at patients with advanced heart disease.

Both Raval and Edwards stress that patients can benefit from exploring the options offered at UW Hospital and Clinics – and more pointedly, not taking "no" for an answer. Edwards likens it to what one might experience in the legal system.

"If you were given a death sentence by a court of law, you'd appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court," notes Edwards. "Why on earth wouldn't you do the same for your health care?"