Dr. George Vetrovec remembers when he performed the area’s first coronary balloon angioplasty at MCV Hospital.
“It was a little scary, but there was a lot of excitement about it,” said Dr. Vetrovec, Director of the Adult Cardiac Catheterization Lab and Associate Chair for Clinical Affairs. “We started doing balloon angioplasties in July 1979, less than two years after the first one had been done in the world. Dr. Michael Cowley and I went to Switzerland to train with the procedure’s pioneer, Dr. Andreas Gruentzig.”
Today, about 800 to 1,000 balloon angioplasties are performed each year in the VCU Pauley Heart Center’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab. The around-the-clock facility has four individual procedure rooms, where about 3,000 planned and emergency procedures take place each year. These procedures include angioplasty, rotational and directional atherectomy, valvuloplasty, and stent placement.
“Dr. Vetrovec is a nationally and internationally renowned pioneer in cardiac catheterization and interventional cardiology. He has built one of the best and most advanced cardiac catheterization laboratories and teams in the world,” said Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen, Chair of the Cardiology Division of the VCU Pauley Heart Center.
In addition to Dr. Vetrovec, two other highly esteemed, senior interventional cardiologists—Dr. Michael Cowley and Dr. Evelyne Goudreau—lead the cath lab team. A staff of physicians, nurses, and technicians specially trained in invasive cardiology also provide support. In July, Dr. Zachary Gertz joined the team as Director of the Structural Heart Disease program. His experience includes catheter-based techniques in heart valve replacements and repair.
VCU’s team has piloted much work over the years and recently took part in a multicenter study using robotics to control angioplasty guide wires. Dr. Vetrovec is also introducing balloon angioplasty of the renal artery as a means of treating hypertension.
Dr. Vetrovec, who joined the MCV faculty in 1976, enjoys the rewards of helping individual patients. But he also likes being part of a facility where his work can have fartherreaching effects.
“If you work in some small area and develop something new, you can really magnify your impact on the number of patients that you can ultimately help,” he said.
Dr. Vetrovec completed his M.D. at the University of Virginia and then undertook his cardiology training at MCV. He has been a member of the MCV faculty since 1976 and has enjoyed watching the evolution of the modern cath lab.
“We’ve gone from being afraid to do a catheterization after someone had a heart attack to now trying to get them in as quickly as possible,” he said.
When his father survived a heart attack over 50 years ago, “mortality rates were probably 25%,” he said. “Today, they are probably 2-3%. So, it’s a huge difference.”