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Firefighters Take Steps to Fight Heart Disease

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  • Written By: Karina Rusk
Firefighters Take Steps to Fight Heart Disease

Media Contact: Karina Rusk

Monterey City Firefighters are the first firefighters in Monterey County to benefit from a unique program that determines if they have early signs of heart disease. About 70 Monterey City Firefighters are getting heart calcium scans at Salinas Valley Health’s Salinas Valley Health Advanced Imaging. The project is spearheaded by the non-profit Family Heart Foundation and supported by Salinas Valley Health and Monterey County Fire Departments.

“We appreciate the community collaboration and support from Salinas Valley Memorial and the Family Heart Foundation,” says Monterey Fire Chief Gaudenz Panholzer. “Firefighters have to take care of themselves and their health so they can help others. Thanks to these scans they will know if they are at risk of developing heart disease and can start making the necessary changes to their health, diet, and lifestyle.”

Family Heart Foundation selected Ryan Ranch Center for Diagnostic Imaging to help with the firefighter project. The Toshiba Aquilion one 320-slice CT at the Center for Diagnostic Imaging scans the entire heart in one rotation, in one heartbeat, exposing patients to 80 percent less radiation than a traditional coronary CT scan.

“Our advanced technology detects the presence of calcium deposits and cholesterol plaque in the coronary arteries before there are any signs or symptoms of heart disease,” Salinas Valley Health Clinics cardiologist, Christopher Oh, MD. “The results give people the opportunity to change their lifestyle and behavior and can save lives.”

H. Robert Superko, MD of the non-profit Family Heart Foundation has been working with firefighters for years to call attention to the risk firefighter’s face. Dr. Superko was lead author of a Federal Emergency Management Agency funded study that brought to light the risks facing firefighters. He says firefighters have 200-300% more heart disease than other professions and that 75% of firefighters have their heart attack on the way to a fire, fighting a fire, or on the way back after a fire.

“The incidence of subclinical heart disease in firefighters was unknown until we did the federal study,” says the Founder of Family Heart Foundation, H. Robert Superko, MD. “Coronary artery calcification is the primary way we determine if the firefighter has subclinical disease. It is exciting to offer these scans to local firefighters.”

Raul Pantoja is one of the dozens of Monterey firefighters to take part in the project. “I am 36 years old and I want to know the health of my heart,” says Monterey firefighter Raul Pantoja. “It's important to detect any problems early for the sake of my family and the community I serve.”

As many as 300 firefighters are expected to participate in the program, with the next phase focusing on Salinas firefighters. The Coronary Calcium Scan is available to the public. 

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