How Heart Cath Procedures Can Save Lives

Sam DeFord

Sam DeFord, RN, BSN, MBA

Manager of cardiac cath lab and cardiac diagnostics

Covenant Health Fort Sanders Regional

Fort Sanders Regional Manager Brings “Heart” to Cardiac Procedures

When you are having a stroke or heart attack, seeking medical care as soon as possible can be lifesaving. Many times, certain tests are needed to tell a doctor what exactly your heart is going through so they can properly diagnose and treat you.

What is a Heart Cath?

One common test to determine the heart’s function (or malfunction) is called a cardiac catheterization, or “heart cath.” This procedure is both a diagnostic test and an opportunity for medical intervention for patients with heart or blood vessel problems. Catheterization allows doctors to take a closer look at the heart to identify heart muscle, valve and blood vessel conditions.

How is the Heart Cath Test Performed?

During this procedure, the patient receives light sedation, and the cardiologist inserts a very small, flexible, hollow tube known as a catheter into a blood vessel to reach the heart. The catheter is most often inserted through the wrist but may be inserted through the groin. Once the catheter is in place, several tests may be done. The provider can measure oxygen levels and blood flow or perform a procedure called an angioplasty, which opens a narrowed or blocked artery using a balloon or a stent.  

This type of cardiac care requires a team of medical professionals who are experts at what they do, but who are also very sensitive to the delicate nature of the patient’s conditions and the various procedures.

Who Needs a Heart Cath?

“There are many reasons a patient would visit the cardiac cath lab,” said Sam DeFord, MBA, BSN, RN, manager of cardiac cath lab and cardiac diagnostics at Covenant Health Fort Sanders Regional.

“A patient who is experiencing chest pain may present to the emergency room, and after having a test called an EKG, a heart cath is a next step to diagnose or intervene.” DeFord explains that a heart cath may also be performed if a patient has a positive stress test, is being treated for an arrhythmia or is experiencing atrial fibrillation or AFib. He adds, “Many people don’t know they’re having arrhythmia, or may not be having symptoms until something comes up during their regular checkup.”

You might be prescribed a heart cath if you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or extreme tiredness. If a screening exam such as an electrocardiogram (EKG) or stress test suggests there may be a heart condition that needs to be explored further, your healthcare provider may order a cardiac cath.

Other diagnoses or issues requiring this procedure are atherosclerosis (the gradual clogging of arteries), cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart due to thickening or weakening of the heart muscle), congenital heart disease, heart valve disease or heart failure.

“When patients come through the cath lab for a procedure, they will encounter our kind, empathetic staff,” DeFord says. “When someone is having a heart attack or other issue, things can move very fast. Our hope is that we slow things down enough for the patient to understand what’s happening to them and answer their questions. We are experienced and trained for all situations, and I want each patient to know they are not alone.”

Why Covenant Health?

DeFord’s education, career path and work experience have uniquely qualified him to serve in his manager role. With a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree in business administration, he also has experience working in the emergency room and intensive care unit. Most recently, he worked for three years in the interventional radiology department at Fort Sanders Regional. His passion for patient care is evident and is coupled with a calm strength that allows his team to rely on him.

DeFord oversees over 50 people, including teams of cath lab nurses, diagnostic nurses, telemetry specialists, cardiovascular techs, and sonographers. In addition to his leadership responsibilities, he is involved in at least one patient case per day. He says, “Helping with a pacemaker or ablation procedure keeps me in touch with the staff and shows me areas where I can seek improvement for the department.”

The department manager chose to work at Fort Sanders Regional because of the people and the culture. “I feel like it’s a culture that wants to build other people up and grow them,” he says. “If there’s anything you want to learn how to do in healthcare, Fort Sanders Regional is a great place to learn it.”

Innovative, Compassionate Cardiac Care

DeFord says, “Another reason I like the cath lab is that our technology is constantly being updated. It’s exciting to see where we go and how we can use technology to better treat our patients.”

“We know that people have heart attacks every day,” he says. “My team is here for those people. We actively treat them by going in with a cardiac cath and reopening the vessel and providing intervention like a stent. When people have a heart arrhythmia, we can treat them with a pacemaker or ablation procedure to get their rhythm back on track.”

DeFord’s positive attitude helps buoy his team’s spirits every day. “During COVID, many healthcare workers got ‘burned out.’ Being here in this department has reawakened why I went into healthcare: to help people get better. And that’s what we do.”

To learn more about award-winning heart care at Fort Sanders Regional, visit and tap Cardiology Services.

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