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After a year in limbo, Hutcheson Medical Center in Fort Oglethorpe has found an interventional cardiologist to staff its updated cardiac catheterization lab.

"This is a very highly qualified physician, and I think we are very fortunate that he was interested in coming down and joining us and helping us develop this program," said Charles Stewart, Hutcheson president and CEO.

The physician is getting his license to practice in Georgia and should begin work before the end of January, Stewart said.

Hutcheson officials wouldn't provide a name, saying the doctor hasn't told his current employer he is leaving, Stewart said. The doctor attended medical school in Pakistan and completed his internal medicine residency at the University of New York in Buffalo, he said.

Hutcheson's catheterization lab was renovated last year, at a cost of $1.7 million, to allow interventional cardiac procedures such as balloon angioplasty to open blocked arteries. But the hospital needed a specialist to perform the procedures. The current staff can perform only noninvasive catheterizations, which diagnose problems in the heart.

Diagnostic Cardiology Group helped Hutcheson get state approval for the lab last year but ended its affiliation with Hutcheson in October 2009. That meant the hospital had to look for a replacement, Stewart said.

A consultant's study last year showed 421 residents of Dade, Catoosa and Walker counties had to leave the area to get interventional cardiac treatments, officials said.

Performing those interventions more quickly can improve outcomes for patients with coronary heart disease, hospital leaders said.

"Time is heart," said Dr. Steve Perlaky, chief of staff and assistant director of the Hutcheson emergency room. "The sooner we can get somebody to an interventional procedure, the more heart we can save."

Hospital officials said in December 2009 they hoped to hire an interventional cardiologist within three to six months.

NEW DOCTOR

Hutcheson Medical Center President and CEO Charles Stewart said the new interventional cardiologist attended medical school at Rawalpindi Medical College in Pakistan and completed his internal medicine residency at the University of New York in Buffalo. He completed a fellowship in coronary and peripheral interventions at St. John's Hospital in Detroit, and additional cardiovascular training at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, Stewart said.


WHAT IS IT?

Cardiac catheterization involves passing a thin, flexible tube (catheter) into the heart, usually from the groin or the arm, to diagnose heart disease, measure blood flow or capture an image of the heart. It also can be used to place stents or open a blockage in an artery.

Source: American Heart Association

"Unfortunately, it took longer than we anticipated to find the right person," Stewart said. "We felt very strongly [that] we wanted to find an individual who was highly qualified, someone who was not coming immediately out of training but someone who had several years of experience under their belt."

The doctor's arrival also fills a need for on-call coverage in Hutcheson's ICU, which for months has relied on a single cardiologist to provide emergency coverage. The new physician can share the burden with cardiologist Marvin Mills, Stewart said.

Hutcheson -- which lost $7.3 million in fiscal year 2009, according to preliminary financial statements -- is working through a "due diligence" process with Erlanger Health System in Chattanooga to develop a strategic partnership.

The collaboration is intended to help draw more doctors and patients to the community hospital.

Hutcheson staff members may receive training from Erlanger doctors for work in the interventional cardiology lab, Stewart said.

Perlaky said news coverage of the hospital's financial struggles have overshadowed the fact that Hutcheson provides quality care both to insured patients and those who can't afford to pay for their care.

"We've had financial problems but the thing to remember is, we have been there for the community regardless," he said.

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