Harvard researchers team up with Indy firefighters to help prevent premature deaths

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INDIANAPOLIS – It’s not the flames or smoke inhalation that’s leading to premature deaths in firefighters. Instead, the courageous group is fighting off heart attacks.

“We’re finding out too late. We’re finding out when its the autopsy. Like I said, the autopsy is 100% accurate yet, its way too late. The person is already gone and this is all about preventing premature death,” said Dr. Stefanos Kales, Harvard University Public Health.

Nearly half of firefighter death are due to heart attacks. To address this alarming statistic. Harvard public health has teamed up with the Indianapolis Fire Department and IU Health to conduct a study to see how to slow the progression of enlarged hearts or reverse the issue all together.

“I’ve been running and working out several times a week and there’s never been a history of heart disease in my family. Few days later I had a heart scan which showed elevated levels of calcium in the vessels of my heart,” said IFD firefighter, Mark Notter.

The study is to help men like Mark Notter live longer. He’s a 46-year-old fourth generation IFD firefighter. Through his yearly, required physical fitness test doctors caught a heart concern that could have been deadly.

“The doctor found I had 90% blockage in one artery and 80% in two others. And the doctor said you’re going to need open heart surgery for a triple bypass. After going through all this I found out about a heart disease risk factor that I didn’t know existed just from being a firefighter.”

The average age of firefighters dying from heart attacks is 50 years old. For the average person that age is 65.

The study involves a massive medical surveillance initiative to screen 400 Indianapolis Fire Department personnel in 2014. Indianapolis-based Public Safety Medical and IU Health Cardiovascular Center are teaming up to provide the clinical risk assessments, screening and follow-up care in conjunction with Dr. Kales.

“The study we are conducting with Indianapolis firefighters, Public Safety Medical and IU Health is the first of its kind,” said Dr. Kales. “It involves taking 3-D images of each participant’s heart so that we can examine the size of the heart and the thickness of the heart’s wall. These measures can reveal early signs of cardiovascular risk associated with conditions better known as cardiomegaly (enlarged heart) or Left Ventricular Hypertrophy (LVH). Our goal is to use this data to develop and validate cost-effective methods for early detection and treatment so that we can ultimately decrease firefighters’ morbidity and mortality.”


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