Nationally-Ranked Heart Care at Trident Medical Center
For 30 years, Dottie Blatchford, RN, has had a front-row seat to Trident Medical Center’s heart program. What she sees today as the Cardiac Procedures Recovery Unit supervisor is a large group of experienced and skilled cardiac specialists working together to care for patients from the Lowcountry and beyond who need increasingly complex cardiac care.
“They save lives every day,” said Blatchford. “There are thousands of Lowcountry patients who are celebrating wedding anniversaries and the births of grandchildren because of the care they received from one of our heart specialists.”
Cardiovascular Surgeon James Benner, M.D., with Palmetto Cardiovascular and Thoracic Associates, and Electrophysiologist Darren Sidney, M.D., with Charleston Heart Specialists, are credited with growing a team of surgeons, cardiologists, electrophysiologists and the staff who supported the care for more than 4,000 heart patients in 2021.
“Our patients come first,” said Dr. Benner, who has served in Trident’s medical staff for more than 20 years. “I’m proud of the team of specialists I get to work alongside and consult with every day. We’re always learning from each other to provide the best care for our patients.”
The quality of care Trident’s heart patients receive is recognized nationally by hospital quality rating agencies such as the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and Healthgrades. For the second consecutive year, the STS ranks Trident among the top 10% of hospitals in the United States and Canada for coronary artery bypass graft surgery. And Healthgrades designates Trident a five-star recipient for both pacemaker and defibrillator procedures.
Stephen Ruiz, a patient of Drs. Benner and Sidney, said, “When you think of a procedure on your heart, it’s scary. However, Dr. Benner, Dr. Sidney and all of the staff at Trident made the experience easy and were very friendly. If you need a heart procedure, this team is excellent.”
Ten years ago, Dr. Sidney started what has now become one of the largest electrophysiology programs in South Carolina. The research he and Frank Cuoco, M.D., his partner at Charleston Heart Specialists, are participating in means their patients at Trident Medical Center are often the first in the nation to benefit from new technology.
“We operate two full-time electrophysiology labs and are doing nearly 10 cases a day that include ablations, pacemakers and defibrillators,” said Dr. Sidney. “The nurse practitioners, nurse navigators and other clinicians on Trident Medical Center’s heart team all have a ‘patient first’ mind-set, and it shows in the national five-star quality and patient experience ratings we’ve earned.”
Drs. Sidney and Cuoco are innovators in the use of implanting devices through minimally invasive procedures. They have performed more than 350 left atrial appendage closure procedures, which reduce the risk of stroke.
For patients with aortic stenosis, one of the most common and most serious heart conditions, Dr. Benner and a team of other heart specialists have performed more than 200 transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedures through minimally invasive surgery.
“TAVR is a last resort for many patients with stenosis. Of all of my patients who I talk to after surgery, they are among the most thankful,” explained Dr. Benner. “We have an experienced team of TAVR specialists like interventional cardiologists Frederick Funke, M.D.; Jason Coker, M.D.; and Patrick Looser, M.D., with Lowcountry Cardiology Associates; and my partner, cardiothoracic surgeon Karen Gersch, M.D., at Palmetto Cardiovascular and Thoracic Associates.”
Trident’s heart specialists agree they are seeing more younger and sicker patients with heart disease. Interventional cardiologist Monique Sandhu, M.D., said it requires the collaboration of all of the specialists to effectively manage the care of patients with increasingly complex heart disease.
“We know and respect each other. And we have each other’s mobile numbers in case we need to reach one of our colleagues quickly with questions about a patient’s care,” explained Dr. Sandhu. “That makes a big difference in an emergency.”
In South Carolina, heart disease is the second leading cause of death. Diabetes, smoking and poor exercise and diet habits continue to increase the risk of heart disease. For interventional cardiologist Marabel Schneider, M.D., who completed her fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine and is the newest member of Lowcountry Cardiology Associates, the opportunity to make a difference is what attracted her to Trident Medical Center.
“Among my colleagues, the hospital has a reputation of being on the cutting edge of cardiac care. The specialists work together and share ideas and best practices to make sure their patients receive the best care,” said Dr. Schneider.
Learn more about the physicians who are providing Trident’s nationally-recognized heart care at www.tridenthealthsystem.com/physicians.