By Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN
Dr. Thomas is dedicated to helping patients recover after a heart attack or other cardiac event, such as heart failure or weakening of the heart, which results in fluid accumulation, and abnormal heart rhythms. He also guides patients as they put heart-healthy habits into practice and does all he can to help at-risk patients avoid heart disease.
“I am especially enjoying treating patients in the Spruce Pine area, because I get the opportunity to really become acquainted with them and their families, and sometimes even have the chance to treat multiple family members. It’s typical for me to follow my patients throughout their lives, and I value this. Cardiology isn’t, thankfully, a realm of care where you treat your patient for a limited time and don’t see them again, and I enjoy these continuing relationships in this tight-knit, small community,” explains Dr. Thomas.
Though he cares for many patients who have already experienced a cardiac event, Dr. Thomas notes that cardiologists are playing a growing role in preventive care. “If a patient’s primary care provider determines that they are at risk for heart disease and refers them to me, I help them get risk factors under control by recommending lifestyle practices and medications that can potentially lower their risk for heart attack and other conditions significantly,” he says.
When asked how he counsels his patients about living lives that support heart health, he cites diet, physical activity, stress management and rest as factors that are key. “Steering clear of sweets, cakes and foods like that, in addition to eating a fruit-and-vegetable-rich diet that’s low in fat, impacts your heart health favorably, as does getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week,” Dr. Thomas says.
“I am also concerned when people work the third shift, because the effects of this type of sustained schedule can be harmful to your heart,” he says. “If patients can’t change their work schedule, I try to work with them to mitigate some of the problems this type of schedule poses.”
Since patients now work more in partnership with their doctors to maintain their good health, Dr. Thomas mentions how important it is for people to be aware of their blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI, a weight to height measurement that is linked to heart disease risk) and A1C, or blood glucose level, which when elevated indicates that a person may have type 2 diabetes. “If any of these numbers are too high, there are things we can do to lower them,” he says.
In addition to knowing your numbers, Dr. Thomas also urges people to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of heart attack — and that they can look different, depending on your gender and age. “While the classic symptoms of heart attack include chest tightness and pain in the left arm, women and elderly people can feel abdominal pain, upset stomach, and jaw and back pain,” he explains. “When people notice these symptoms, they should not postpone seeking care, even during this pandemic. The hospital is observing every possible protocol to keep patients safe from COVID-19, and it’s critical to get treated as soon as possible so your heart doesn’t sustain irreversible damage.”
Community members can get preventive cardiac care here at BRRH, diagnostic tests for heart disease, such as nuclear stress echocardiogram testing, speedy assessment for heart symptoms and vital follow-up care in the form of multidisciplinary cardiac rehabilitation, an essential part of recovery for those who have had heart attacks and other cardiac events. “Cardiac rehabilitation educates patients about how they can take the best care of themselves as they recover and for the long-term, tailors a medically supervised exercise program for them that they can maintain after graduating and gives them the chance to build relationships with other participants, since patients often struggle with fear and anxiety,” says Dr. Thomas. He adds that studies reflect that cardiac rehab participants experience reduced rates of cardiovascular-related death after heart attack or heart failure.
Dr. Thomas finds community care to be both fulfilling and motivating. “Because I can build rich relationships with my patients over time, I feel inspired to learn continuously and keep growing professionally. This, I believe, translates into better care,” he says.
We are happy that Dr. Thomas is now providing exceptional care in his new role here at BRRH. Our caliber of heart care is enhanced by team members like him, and we hope you feel confident about any heart services you receive, whether for an emergent situation, management of a chronic condition, or prevention.
Tonia W. Hale, DNP, MAOM, BSN, RN, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine.