By Laura Newpoff – Contributor
Your heart has valves that function like doors: They open and shut to let blood flow from one chamber to the other. Sometimes, though, a valve might have difficulty closing. This is known as a leaky heart valve. When a valve doesn’t close properly, it causes blood to back up close to the lungs, resulting in shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness and other health challenges.
Fifty-seven percent of people with leaky heart valves may not survive one year, according to Dr. Sameer Gafoor of Swedish Health Services in Seattle.
One treatment option is medication, but patients often need something more to help them feel better. Open heart surgery is a consideration for some, but not everyone is an ideal candidate for that invasive procedure.
That’s where the MitraClip comes in. Doctors at the health system’s Structural Heart and Valve Disease Program insert the device with a minimally invasive procedure that does not require open heart surgery or temporarily stopping the heart.
Gafoor, medical director of Swedish Health Services’ Structural Heart and Valve Disease Program, and his team completed their 500th MitraClip procedure in February 2023. The program, which they started 10 years ago, now ranks among the top five in the country for volume of MitraClip placements.
“With 500 procedures under our belts, we’ve been able to streamline and improve our care,” Dr. Gafoor said in an article the health system published after the 500th procedure. “The time it takes to complete the procedure has decreased. Our safety is great and our results are excellent as well. People often go home the same day or the next day and back to their doctor with full recovery within the first seven to 10 days. Patients come to Swedish from all over for their care. Most programs do 20 procedures a year. Our team performs more than 150 cases a year.”
The milestone procedure is an example of innovation in health care and reinforces the fact that Greater Seattle is a top 10 life science cluster in the nation, according to CBRE.
“A commitment to clinical research helps us gain invaluable expertise and allows us to provide innovative procedures and world-class care close to home,” Dr. Gafoor said.
Delivering world-class care through health innovation
Health services is the top industry fueling the Greater Seattle region’s economy, reports show. According to data compiled by Greater Seattle Partners, “healthcare and social assistance” accounts for more than 262,500 jobs at the metropolitan statistical area level, with 8% projected growth during the five-year period from 2022 to 2027 (Lightcast, 2023).
There also have been more than 86,000 unique job postings in the industry over the past 12 months, with over 2,400 employers competing for talent.
Swedish Medical Center joins UW Medical Center, Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital and St. Joseph Medical Center as the top five hospitals in the state, ranked in the Puget Sound Business Journal by admissions data.
These organizations are leveraging technology, people and systems to provide world-class care to patients, said Dr. Elizabeth Wako, president and CEO of Swedish Health Services.
“We have a legacy commitment to quality and excellence and are relentlessly focused on the quality of care we give,” she said, referencing Dr. Nils Johanson, a surgeon and Swedish immigrant who, in 1908, convinced 10 of his fellow Swedish-Americans to buy $1,000 bonds to open the hospital. Having learned about the latest advances in germ control and surgical techniques, Johanson wanted to bring these innovations — and an emphasis on continuing education — to Seattle.
“He wanted to open his own hospital practice based on the highest standards of hygiene,” Dr. Wako said. “Having that as our foundation has stuck with us as we’ve grown.”
That tradition of innovation continues today. Some examples include:
Telemedicine advancements. In 2004, Swedish was the first hospital in Washington to launch “TeleICU” to improve access to specialized care. It has several other telemedicine programs for its doctors to offer their expertise to other doctors throughout the state in areas including stroke, neurology and multiple sclerosis.
Surgery. The health system is renowned for minimally invasive surgery via traditional laparoscopy and the da Vinci robot, with more than 7,000 robotic surgeries successfully completed.
Radiation therapy. Swedish was an early adopter of the Varian Ethos, an adaptive radiation therapy, and was the first cancer care center in the Pacific Northwest to offer this technology to its patients.
Innovative research. A robust research program at Swedish regularly contributes to the development of new treatments and is frequently selected to be the first to test new therapies in humans. These efforts can lead to more treatment options for patients, some of whom have exhausted all other alternatives. Examples include cellular therapy for blood cancer and autoimmune diseases and detecting precancerous polyps during colonoscopy.
Clinical trials. Swedish is one of the largest clinical trials sites on the West Coast and is leading or partnering with more than 630 clinical trials in 30 areas of study. This includes a study advancing the prediction and treatment of long Covid.
Births. The health system welcomed 10,300 babies in 2022 and, as a Level IV regional NICU, provides the highest level of neonatal services to families in the region. A Small Baby Unit focuses on delivering evidence-based, standardized care for the most vulnerable babies. The JUST Birth Network provides Black and Native patients with a network of culturally affirming care. And the Doula program provides emotional and physical support during childbirth, pain management assistance and education and information about delivery.
Virtual nursing. Amid a nursing shortage, Swedish’s Cherry Hill campus is piloting a virtual nursing program. These professionals can communicate with patients and the bedside team to help with admissions, discharges, pre-procedural checklists, medication reconciliation and interdisciplinary team meetings.
“Many nurses have left the workforce because of stress, Covid and the general pressures of the job,” Dr. Wako said. “We think this program will help us bring many of them back into the profession in a way that will allow them to deliver care in a flexible manner that works for them and their schedule.”
Life sciences continues to grow in Seattle
Greater Seattle boasts a robust life sciences ecosystem that shares a symbiotic relationship with health care. According to Life Science Washington, more than 1,100 life science organizations in the state employ almost 44,000 people and represent an economic impact of more than $35 billion.
According to Greater Seattle Partners, the life sciences ecosystem includes 9.34 million square feet of lab and research and development space; several clusters of excellence, including South Lake Union and Bothell Life Science Cluster; and a healthy funding environment that includes venture capital and funding from the National Institutes of Health, as well as private foundations.
One recent innovation was a Covid-19 vaccine based on technology developed at the University of Washington School of Medicine that was approved for use in Korea. The university also was the first to use the revolutionary “heart in a box” device to extend the duration of a donor heart.
There also are innovations coming out of the private sector in the areas of predictive medicine, drug discovery and precision oncology.
“Whether it’s academic and research institutions, places like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center or the many dynamic companies continuing to innovate in the life sciences space, this industry has many opportunities to thrive in this region,” Dr. Wako said. “The strong ecosystem also includes incubators, accelerators and investors who want to move breakthroughs forward. In Seattle, the life sciences are thriving.”