Team Highlight: Cath Lab and EP Lab Nurses at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute
The Saint Luke’s catheterization lab, or cath lab, inside the Mid America Heart Institute is where patients are treated for blocked or narrowed arteries in their bodies that may be causing symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath.
Each team in the lab is made up of two cardiovascular techs and two nurses who are cross-trained in their roles to scrub, circulate, and document the case as it progresses. They do procedures such as angioplasties, angiograms, heart valve replacements, and opening blockages.
While based at the Kansas City hospital, the team travels to other Saint Luke’s campuses as well. Cardiovascular specialist and registered nurse Kim Filla says the cath lab at Saint Luke’s is unique because of how advanced it is in the field.
“The Mid America Heart Institute as a whole is very advanced and cutting edge,” Filla said. “We’re always using the latest studies that have come out in our procedures. We have had some staff members who have gone to national conferences find that many of the techniques and diagnostic tests that they are presenting, we’re already using. Techs and nurses from across the country are in awe during these presentations.”
A cath lab team is on call 24 hours a day and, when needed, must not be more than 30 minutes away from the hospital. Filla says it’s crucial that they be there ready to go within 30 minutes so the patients can be relieved within 60 minutes of their arrival. They call it “door-to-balloon time,” meaning the amount of time after entry until the team uses a balloon, or other methods, to open the blocked artery and restore blood flow.
“In cardiac emergencies, we say time is muscle,” Filla said. “Your heart is just a big muscle and the longer you go without opening that blocked artery, the more your mortality increases. So, our goal is to open the blocked artery within 60 minutes of the patient entering the doors. The national goal is 90 minutes, but we meet the 60 minutes pretty often.”
On the other side of the spectrum is the electrophysiology lab, or EP lab, which treats patients that have irregular heartbeat issues. The EP lab team can install pacemakers, treat atrial fibrillation, and much more. Unlike most hospitals, the cath lab and EP lab at Saint Luke’s are two separate entities. Registered nurse Holly Steinshouer says the cath lab team is like the plumber of the heart and the EP lab is like the electrician.
“Sometimes we don’t even need to speak because we can read each other’s body language and anticipate what’s coming next,” Steinshouer said. “I feel like that’s super important in our line of work because our patient might be awake and you don’t want to scare somebody. We just all get each other and we’ve definitely all bonded as a family.”
The patient-nurse relationship in the cath or EP lab is different than traditional bedside nursing because patients are typically treated and released within a single day. They are, however, very urgent cases and form a strong connection when patients feel instant relief.
“We have very instant gratification most times, especially in emergency cases where a patient comes in literally dying,” Filla said. “And maybe 30 minutes later, they’re feeling better, their chest pain is gone, you know that they’re stable, and then you hear about them being able to go to their daughter’s wedding or live to see another day.”
Learn more about Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute – a top-ranking institute offering the most comprehensive heart and vascular care in Kansas City.