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Sunday, December 21, 2014 | Last updated: 8:28pm

UA study influences Tucson firefighter's clinic to add ultrasound machine



The firefighter’s clinic in Tucson will install an ultrasound machine to detect heart problems as a result of a UA study’s findings.

Jeff Burgess, a UA professor of public health and director of the Community, Environment and Policy Division in the College of Public Health, has worked on a variety of studies pertaining to firefighters and said it is important to try to identify firefighters at risk for heart attacks because half of firefighter deaths in the line of duty are due to heart attacks.

“We can detect some heart disease, but there’s still a long ways that we need to go to be able to detect all the firefighters at high risk,” Burgess said. “That’s one thing. The second thing is to really understand how we can prevent them from developing the extended heart disease that’s going to put them at risk for heart attacks later on.”

Dr. Wayne Peate, an associate professor at the College of Public Health, proposed that the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation look at funding a study where at-risk firefighters receive an ultrasound to look for.

“The study that Dr. Peate did through the UA College of Public Health demonstrated the efficacy of the ultrasound to the point where now we want to do it with the firefighters,” said Mike McKendrick, chairman of the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation. “The added hope is that this will become the national standard.”

The study, which ended in 2011, found that the ultrasound machine is more effective than the heart CT scan in detecting blockages in the arteries, and that with the ultrasound there is no radiation, Peate said.

A CT scan only picks up blockages that have calcium in them, Peate said. This means one out of four blockages is missed. Furthermore, with the heart CT scan, the radiation is 30 times that of a chest X-ray, he added.

“The study showed the ultrasound was so effective that now we want to use it to detect early signs of heart disease before somebody has a heart attack or a stroke,” Peate said.

As a result of the study, the Greater Tucson Fire Foundation decided to provide funding for an ultrasound machine in the firefighter’s clinic in Tucson. The machine will be placed in the clinic by December, in hopes that it will benefit firefighters.

“What the foundation looks at is if we have just one save, it’s worthwhile,” McKendrick said. “The save could be really saving a firefighter’s life, or even letting a firefighter know that he or she has potential for that cardiac disease so they can go to their primary care physician and be treated.”
The study showed there was a cheaper, more accurate and less dangerous way of detecting abnormalities than with other types of technology, Peate said. Early intervention can help firefighters to stay healthy in their careers, he added.

“If we can get it ahead of time, let the firefighter know there’s a problem, then we can treat it,” McKendrick said. “There’s really not a lot more traumatic than a firefighter having a heart attack at work. You have to save the person there to do the saving and that’s very traumatic.”


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