Clinic solely focuses on heart failure

Grandmother Donna Rose may have hung the moon, but heart failure was bringing her down.
March 21, 2017

Donna Rose has a 5-year-old granddaughter who is hard to keep up with.

The 60-year-old grandmother of two enjoys bike riding with her granddaughter, who is always a little bit ahead.

Donna Rose enjoys the Fort Collins’ Saint Patrick’s Day Parade with her granddaughter.
Donna Rose enjoys the Fort Collins’ Saint Patrick’s Day Parade with her granddaughter.

“I’ll be right behind her and she’ll say, ‘Come on, poky grandma,’ ’’ Rose said with a smile.

Last summer, Rose was feeling more than a little poky. She had trouble breathing when she lay down, and her chest felt heavy when she got up. Having a history of bronchitis and pneumonia problems, she decided to go to urgent care.

“They decided to take me to the hospital,” she said. “They got the fluid off my lungs and from around my heart. They did all sorts of tests to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack, including an echocardiogram. When my blood-oxygen levels returned to normal and the fluid was almost gone, they released me with medications and lots of instructions.”

But that wasn’t the end of Rose’s care — UCHealth doctors made an appointment for her at the UCHealth Heart Failure Clinic.

The clinic has a multidisciplinary team — cardiac-specialized nurses and doctors — who provide individualized care to address the specific heart failure concerns of each patient they encounter.

“Heart failure is complicated, and usually these patients have multiple issues that are contributing to their condition,” said Dr. Lance Richards, a cardiologist with the clinic. “They need more than just medication or a procedure — they need personalized care.”

Heart failure occurs when the heart muscle is weakened or stiffened and cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. Warning signs include shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, built-up fluid (in chest), fatigue or lightheadedness, nausea or lack of appetite, confusion, high heart rate, new or worsened swelling in the ankles or legs, and unexplained rapid weight gain. By itself, any one symptom may not be a sign for alarm, but more than one is a concern.

An ultrasound of Rose’s heart revealed that it was functioning at about half-power.

“We capture a lot of patients from the hospital, like Donna (Rose), and work with them to make sure they are getting the appropriate follow-up,” Richards said. “Heart failure is common, and it leads to a lot of hospitalizations. To address it requires close monitoring, and these people usually have many other health issues, which makes it hard on a single physician. We can take over the heart failure management, which frees up their primary care provider to focus on the patient’s other important medical issues.”

The heart failure team sat down with Rose to discuss her current lifestyle and a plan they felt would help her tackle her condition.

“At clinic, we focus on lifestyle and education,” said Jessica Reed, nurse navigator at the clinic. The plan also includes heart failure medications.

“We specifically focus on being able to up-titrate and adjust medications frequently,” Reed continued. “The average heart failure patient sees their cardiologist one to two times per year, and medications are rarely adjusted. A primary treatment for patients is adjusting their medications to ensure they are on the appropriate medications and dosages. This is one of the many benefits of going to the Heart Failure Clinic. This easier access to care and follow-up prevents those readmissions and hospitalizations.”

Rose’s medications were monitored carefully and adjusted to find the perfect levels for her. There was one adverse reaction, but the team quickly evaluated what had happened and adjusted Rose’s plan accordingly.

“(Those at the clinic) went out of their way to accommodate me and really showed a genuine concern,” Rose said. “They listened more to what I had to say, were very open and communicative in what was happening.”

Along with following their medication plans, Heart Failure Clinic patients also follow a personalized dietary and aerobic plan.

“Donna was an ideal patient and great to work with,” Richards said. “And in only three and a half months, her condition had normalized. She has to stay on her medications, but she’s now stable.”

And now, she’s no longer poky grandma.

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.