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Life Saving Calling

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  • Written By: Michelle Aliprantis
Life Saving Calling

Shahzad Ahmed decided he wanted to become a doctor early in life. His younger brother, sick with rheumatic fever, got well after medical treatment and the 11-year old Shahzad knew he had found his calling. “I wanted to help other people, the way that doctor helped my brother,” he says.

Dr. Ahmed, now a board-certified cardiologist who joined Lower Bucks Hospital’s Cardiology Practice in August 2019, grew up in Pakistan and received his medical education at Allama Iqbal Medical College in Lahore. “It is difficult to get into medical school in Pakistan,” Dr. Ahmed says. “The schools are run by the government and there are many more students than there is room.” In his case, he was one of 75,000 students vying for only 1,500 spots.

After graduation from medical school, Dr. Ahmed continued his studies at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia with a residency in internal medicine as well as training in interventional cardiology. He was subsequently appointed Assistant Professor of Medicine at Drexel.

Interventional cardiology is a subspecialty of cardiology that uses specialized imaging and other diagnostic techniques to evaluate blood flow and pressure in the coronary arteries and chambers of the heart, as well as using technical procedures and medications to treat abnormalities of the cardiovascular system. “My uncle is an interventional cardiologist,” Dr. Ahmed says. “I saw from a young age the difference that this specialty can make in people’s lives.”

In addition to his family ties, Dr. Ahmed’s decision to specialize in cardiology was driven by the prevalence of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the United States. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 647,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—about 1 in every 4 deaths. (Cancer is a close second, with about 600,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.)

In his 16 years of practice, Dr. Ahmed has seen many changes in the approach to heart-related procedures. One example is “revascularization,” in which blood flow is restored to a blocked artery. “Fifteen years ago, this was typically done via open-heart surgery,” Dr. Ahmed says. “Now, we can achieve the same results with stents, a much more minimally invasive procedure.” Stents are small, thin slotted tubes of metal that are placed in the blocked artery through a catheter inserted into the groin or arm.

Another example is aortic valve replacement, a treatment for “stenosis” (a narrowing of the aortic valve). Open-heart surgery, in which the valve is replaced after the surgeon makes an incision in the chest and spreads the ribs to expose the heart, is still a common approach. However, there is a less-invasive technique that may be an option for some people: the surgeon makes a smaller incision in the chest and doesn’t spread the ribs (this approach works because the aortic valve is located near the front of the chest). There is even a method that doesn’t require surgery at all: in a transcatheter aortic valve replacement, the valve is replaced through a blood vessel.

Dr. Ahmed is keenly aware of another welcomed trend. He says, “The medications to treat conditions that can cause heart disease—such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol—have gotten better and better. As a result, fewer people are developing serious cardiovascular problems.”

At the time Dr. Ahmed joined Lower Bucks Hospital, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronak Bhimani said, “The addition of Dr. Ahmed to our team means that our community now has local, convenient access to the specialty services of a full-time cardiologist. We are delighted to partner with such an experienced physician to bring interventional cardiology care back to Lower Bucks County and the surrounding areas.”

Dr. Ahmed is equally delighted. He finds the hospital’s investment in and commitment to the community to be unique. “We provide a wide range of cardiology services, from the simple to the complex,” he says. “We have a team approach to the heart health of the community, through the care provided by interventional cardiologists, general surgeons, vascular surgeons and wound care specialists.”

Additionally, Lower Bucks Hospital will soon be offering amputation-prevention services. While limb amputation is most closely associated with diabetes, it is also linked to peripheral arterial disease, a narrowing or blockage of arteries that causes poor blood flow to legs or arms.

Partnering with his patients is a cornerstone of Dr. Ahmed’s care philosophy. “I have the opportunity to empower patients to improve their health through the practice of quality medicine and healthy lifestyle changes,” he says.

To that goal, Dr. Ahmed has guidance for the community. “People need to begin watching their heart health at a much younger age than they may think,” he says. “The American Heart Association recommends that everyone age 20 or older have their cholesterol, glucose, and blood pressure checked regularly. It’s also important that people work with their doctor to determine their risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke.”

As is universally accepted by the medical community and the general public, a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of heart-related (and other) conditions. Experts say there are four behaviors that define a healthy lifestyle: a good diet, moderate exercise, a recommended body fat percentage, and being a non-smoker.

Dr. Ahmed embraces the “Mediterranean” diet, characterized by:

• High quantities of vegetables, such as tomatoes, kale, broccoli, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, and onions

• Fresh fruit, such as apples, bananas, figs, dates, grapes, and melons

• High consumption of legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and cashews

• Whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, corn, and brown rice

• Olive oil as the main source of dietary fat, along with olives, avocados, and avocado oil

• Cheese and yogurt as the main dairy foods, including Greek yogurt

• Moderate amounts of fish and poultry, such as chicken, duck, turkey, salmon, sardines, and oysters

• Moderate amount of eggs, including chicken, quail, and duck eggs

• Very limited red meats.

• Very limited sweets.

• Water as the main beverage. And no sweetened drinks at all.

For heathy adults, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity). The guidelines also suggest that this exercise be spread out during the course of the week—for example, 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity 5 days a week.

Moderate aerobic exercise includes activities such as brisk walking, water aerobics, gardening, playing doubles tennis, and biking slower than 10 miles per hour. Vigorous aerobic exercise includes running, swimming laps, heavy yardwork, playing singles tennis, biking 10 miles per hour or faster, and jumping rope.

Under Dr. Ahmed’s leadership Lower Bucks Hospital has started a number of new programs, including “radial artery access” for cardiac catherization. In plain English, this means the catheter is inserted into an artery in the wrist, rather than the groin, which is more comfortable for patients and reduces bleeding at the puncture site.

Lower Bucks Hospital is a community hospital, serving the Lower Bucks County region with medical, surgical, and emergency care. Located in historic Bristol, Pennsylvania, the Hospital is well-known for its knowledgeable medical staff, including cardiology, orthopedics, sports medicine, radiology, and general surgery.

Dr. Ahmed is accepting new patients at Lower Buck’s Hospital Cardiology Practice, located at 501 Bath Road in Bristol. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 215-785-5100.

Maria Canfield is a local freelance writer and the co-founder of Your Words Your Story, a memoir and pet-tribute creation service.