Tracking Down Heart Disease
Temple's New Institute for Preventive Cardiology Takes On Atherosclerosis
When the chest pains started last January, Venkataramana Pallela, PhD,
dismissed it as a little bit of congestion that would soon pass. Despite his
self-prognosis, the pains persisted.
Concerned that this could be the beginning of a heart problem, Pallela,
44, began to investigate with his primary doctor, and later with a
A stress test came up good. His EKGs were normal. And a nuclear test -
in which a radioactive "tracer" liquid is injected into a patient's body and
followed by a gamma camera as it travels through the chambers of the
heart - came out OK. Each physician he met could find no visible symptom
of a heart condition.
After all, he was young, thin, and, from all outward appearances, in
reasonably good shape. He didn't drink. His cholesterol wasn't too high,
and he lived on a diet of mostly rice. Plus, his job as an assistant scientist
at Temple's Fels Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Biology kept
him active - or so he thought.
"I seriously thought running around the lab all day was all the exercise I
needed," said Pallela. It wasn't until he met Sara Sirna, MD, Director of the
new Temple Institute for Preventive Cardiology (TIPC), that the surprising
truth behind Pallela's mysterious chest pains was discovered.
Sirna recommended that her new patient undergo a powerful 64-Slice CT
Scan, which revealed that two of his arteries were more than two-thirds
blocked by a build-up of plaque. That very day, Invasive Cardiologist Nelson
Wolfe, MD, inserted stents in each of Pallela's blocked arteries, opening them
up so normal blood flow could resume.
Today, he is a new man. He dutifully goes to cardiac rehab three times a week
to work out, and hits the treadmill at home in the evening. He's changed his
diet - trading the occasional slice of pizza for salads and whole grains. He's
taking medication to keep his cholesterol in check. And he's become a strong
proponent for heart-healthy living, urging his friends and family to avoid
the risks of the silent killer known as heart disease.
"It we hadn't gotten to the bottom of this, I would have been a walking time
bomb on Broad Street by now," said Pallela.
A Preventable Risk
While this has certainly been a wakeup call for Pallela, cardiologist Sirna says
his story should be seen as a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks they are
immune from the risks of heart disease.
"The bottom line is that heart disease - while being the No. 1 killer of men and
women in the nation - is also preventable," said Sirna, during a recent heart
health fair held in TUH's lobby, that helped raise awareness about the new
Some passersby stopped to have their blood pressure checked, pick up brochures
on healthy living, or set up an appointment for a cardiac check-up. Others made a
beeline to The Artery Explorer - a giant flight simulator parked on Broad Street that
treated participants to a wild ride and a movie outlining the steps they can take to
prevent heart disease - like avoiding sedentary lifestyles and quitting smoking.
Each year, 1.2 million Americans are diagnosed with coronary heart disease.
Atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries, is the leading cause of
coronary heart disease and stroke. Because plaque builds up slowly, there are
typically no symptoms until the artery becomes narrow or blocked.
At the new Institute, which will soon open on the first floor of TUH's Ambulatory
Care Center, patients will work with a team of doctors, dieticians, pharmacists,
and staff to take charge of their heart health. Institute physicians will help
patients control their blood pressure, evaluate their cholesterol problems, create
personalized exercise programs, enroll in smoke cessation programs, and benefit
from personal nutritional and medication counseling.
"This will be a team approach to heart care," said Sirna. "Patients aren't just seeing
'the doctor.' They will have the benefit of doctors, nutritionists, pharmacists - all of
us working together and communicating with each other ... and the patient."