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Searching for 'walking time bombs'
Medical center hosts 'Heart of the Southern Crescent' health fair

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Southern Regional Medical Center has taken a special interest in matters of the heart.

On Saturday, the hospital will occupy the entire ground floor of Southlake Mall in Morrow to help residents in the Southern Crescent manage their cardiovascular health.

From 11 a.m., to 4 p.m., SRMC will host the 6th Annual "Heart of the Southern Crescent" Health Fair on the mall's grounds. People visiting that day will be able to take an electrocardiogram (EKG), pulmonary function test, and several other potentially life-saving cardiovascular screenings -- free of charge.

The event, held annually during February's American Heart Month, has been billed as "the largest health fair in the state of Georgia." SRMC Public Information Officer Jamie Carlington said the event runs "neck and neck" with the 13th Congressional District Health Fair hosted annually in August by U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-GA).

However, "we concentrate on the heart," said Carlington. "Good health is a family issue. That's why it's so important for us to go out into the community."

Radio Disney be in the mall from noon to 1:30 p.m., on Saturday to promote cardiovascular health in children and urge parents and their children to get EKG screenings. A painless test, which takes less than 10 minutes to perform, an EKG checks the electrical output of the heart.

The test can predict potentially serious problems, such as irregular heart rhythms, if a person is at risk of a heart attack, or if a person has suffered a previous heart attack. It can also identify defects of the heart -- vital knowledge for parents getting ready to enter their children in sports, Carlington said.

For the last few years, the SRMC has been leading the Southern Crescent in cardiovascular health research. Two years ago, the hospital became the only metro area hospital south of Interstate 285 with an angioplasty unit.

Angioplasty -- a less-invasive, less-expensive, and often more effective alternative to open heart surgery -- places a small, expandable stint inside veins which have collapsed or become clogged with plaque. In the last two years, SRMC has performed around 500 successful angioplasty surgeries, 100 of which were cases when a patient came to the hospital immediately after suffering a heart attack.

"When you're having a heart attack, time is muscle," said Donna Waggoner, managing director of SRMC's heart and vascular care unit. She said the tests offered at the health fair can determine if a person is in need of the procedure.

"Our goal is to have people come for our free screenings so that they can get a risk assessment," said Waggoner. "There are so many walking time bombs out there."

SRMC services and systems manager Kerry Hamilton said that six major tests would be offered. While the EKG test is being promoted over all the others, visitors will be able to take an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test. This check for blockages in the legs and is vital to those suffering from, or at risk of, diabetes.

Other tests will check the functioning of the lungs, cholesterol and glucose levels, and body mass index (BMI). Visitors who take all six tests will have the chance to be entered in a prize drawing for two free, domestic, round-trip AirTran airfare tickets.

"A lot of people depend on us to do this," on a yearly basis, said Waggoner. "Last year, we touched 2,000 lives. We don't sit in here and say 'come to our hospital' ... we go out to them."