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St. Mary Medical Center Expands Heart Services with Electrophysiology Program


Last year, Dignity Health - St. Mary Medical Center, together with the financial support of St. Mary Foundation donors, opened a second catheterization lab with the specific intent to serve as an electrophysiology (EP) lab. As such, St. Mary has the most advanced equipment and technology to provide comprehensive heart rhythm management.

Electrophysiologist Mark Lee, MD, was appointed as the medical director for the EP program. Dr. Lee has provided in-service education to the St. Mary Residency Program while serving as an integral member of the hospital’s cardiac co-management team, which analyzes and strategizes multiple cardiovascular services offered at St. Mary Medical Center.

Dr. Lee knows an EP program is essential to providing excellent heart care. “Electrophysiology refers to the study of heart rhythm disorders, both fast and slow,” he said. “Many of our patients suffer from heart rhythm abnormalities. Here at St. Mary, we offer the full spectrum of care – from prevention to procedures.”

Heart rhythm disorders can manifest in subtle ways, such as fatigue and lethargy, or more prominently, as chest tightness and shortness of breath. There are many types of heart rhythm disorders, and establishing the correct diagnosis is critical in providing tailored therapy.

A person’s heartbeat is controlled by a series of electrical impulses traveling within the heart. If these electrical impulses are firing too slowly, quickly, or out of sync, symptoms may occur. Lightheadedness, palpitations or fatigue in the context of an abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG) are symptoms that may require an exam by a cardiac electrophysiologist, such as Dr. Lee, who can determine whether the issue can be treated with medications or procedures. Common EP procedures include:

  • Cardioversion - to restore normal rhythm
  • Device implant - including pacemakers and defibrillators
  • Ablation - including supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), atrial flutter, atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia

One such rhythm is atrial fibrillation, or AFib. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), AFib is the most common arrhythmia, which occurs when the heart beats too slowly, quickly, or irregularly. When a person has AFib, the contraction

of the upper chambers of the heart (atria) is irregular, and does not allow synchronized blood flow from the atria to the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles). AFib begins as brief episodes but, eventually, transitions to a permanent condition.

Patients with AFib can have a stroke risk that is five times greater than those without AFib. St. Mary Medical Center is an Advanced Primary Stroke Center with skilled neurologists and clinical staff trained to recognize and treat patients with acute stroke. The CDC notes that AFib causes 15%–20% of ischemic strokes, which occur when blood flow to the brain is clogged by a clot.

“Early detection of AFib is critical as therapies are most effective during the initial stages. AFib is a progressive rhythm that worsens over time, and if detected too late, it can be difficult to treat,” Dr. Lee explained.

Electrophysiology procedures are generally low-risk, and often, patients are released the same day. Planning for any medical procedure can be overwhelming, which is why St. Mary’s team of specialists, nurses, therapists, and technicians are committed to high-quality, compassionate patient care in the safest environment possible.

About Dignity Health - St. Mary Medical Center

Dignity Health - St. Mary Medical Center is a 389-bed acute care nonprofit hospital that offers a full range of inpatient, outpatient and related health and wellness services to the greater Long Beach area. With more than 600 physicians and 1,350 employees, St. Mary is committed to providing a unique balance of high-quality, compassionate care, personal attention and leading-edge medical technology that brings both healing and humanity to the body, mind and spirit of our patients and the communities we serve.  St. Mary was founded by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in 1923, and is mission-driven not only to deliver care to the sick, but also to provide direct services to the underserved and advocate on their behalf. 

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