Parkwest Medical Center is well-known for advanced cardiology, but it wasn’t always that way. 35 years of dedication and hard work helped shape the hospital’s legacy as a premier heart hospital. “When I first started practicing in Knoxville in the 1980s, we had to transport patients to another hospital to do heart caths,” recalls retired cardiologist Robert E. Gentry, MD, FACC. As a result, Dr. Gentry, together with Victor McLaughlin, MD, and Fred Barry, MD lead the effort to open the hospital’s first cath lab.
Opening a cath lab requires a certificate of need, and the physicians presented their case first to a local committee and then again at the state level. They were successful in their efforts and since opening the cath lab in 1984, the hospital has expanded its services to seven cath labs performing more than 5,000 procedures annually.
Stephen Marietta, MD, FACC has been practicing cardiology at Parkwest since 1985. He, like Dr. Gentry, traveled to other area hospitals to perform interventions on patients in what he describes as the “early days.”
“One of the most noticeable improvements over my career is how much we can help people now as compared to the early 1980s, especially someone who has who has suffered a heart attack.”
Marietta says the imaging technology used in cath labs also has greatly improved over time. Back then, there were only three to four cardiologists on staff. More were added after 1990, and the cath lab was reconfigured to allow for urgent transfers for bypass
surgery. With these advancements, Parkwest was already proving itself as a leader in cardiac care.
As cardiac technology expanded, Parkwest added more interventional services involving stents and balloons. “In 1977, there was a doctor in Switzerland who did the first one,” says Gentry, “and I learned from him directly after he came to the United States.”
Soon after, Gentry says physicians discovered they could perform heart caths while patients were experiencing a heart attack. The first coronary bypass at Parkwest was performed in 1987, and Gentry performed his first stent in 1995. He estimates he has performed more than 5,000 heart catheter procedures in his 32 years of practice.
Revolutionizing Heart Care
Both physicians acknowledge that with advancements in the cath lab, the need for open heart surgery has decreased. “Because of stents, it is less common to need emergency open heart surgery during a heart cath,” says Marietta. “Before stents, about one in 10 patients suffering a heart attack received open heart surgery. I’d say now it’s less than one percent.”
Procedures such as valve replacement can now be performed via a catheter. “Installing an aortic valve through the catheter in the groin is a miracle” says Gentry, “because you no longer have to open the chest through traditional heart surgery.
“It’s because of cardiac catheterization that mortality rate from heart attacks has gone from 25 percent to four percent. We have proven that we can save lives by finding out what’s going on.” said Dr. Gentry.
Looking Back, and Forward
When reflecting on his years at Parkwest, Gentry says, “It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I loved being
there, doing that work. If I opened someone’s artery with a balloon and stopped a heart attack, it was personally satisfying, but always gave it to God. He guided me.”
Dr. Gentry speaks highly of Wayne Heatherly, former chief administrator of Parkwest Medical Center who opened the doors of the hospital in December of 1973 and is responsible for its success for many years, in Gentry’s opinion. “I recall the elation expressed
and demonstrated by Dr. Gentry when he finally had the opportunity to do our first catheterization case. When he
finished, he exited the cath lab, smiling from ear to ear, and was yelling
‘We did it!’ as he gave me an unforgettable bear hug,” says Wayne Heatherly. Neil Heatherly, current chief administrative officer at Parkwest and Wayne Heatherly’s son, adds, “It is difficult to fully comprehend the growth and maturation of the cardiovascular service line at Parkwest over the last 35 years. I’m grateful for the vision and passion of Dr. Gentry, my father, and others, who
established the cath lab and our foundation for our leading program today.
The legacy of our program is inspiring and the future of our program is resplendent.” For additional information about the cardiac services available at Parkwest Medical Center, visit treatedwell.com/cardiacservices/or call 374-PARK (7275) for http://www.treatedwell. com/cardiacservices/a physician referral.