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Rose Colucci never expected to find herself at St. Francis Hospital having open-heart surgery in 1997 after having an Ultra Fast CAT Scan as a research subject at the hospital's DeMatteis Center. Colucci, who lives in Williston Park and works in Manhasset, always walked five miles a day and felt physically fit. She volunteered to be part of a heart research study on a whim, thinking, "I am not sure I want to do this." The Ultra Fast Cat Scan revealed a spot on her left atrium, a myxoma, a lump that needed to be removed immediately. It was potentially life-threatening. Since that experience she continues to volunteer to be a research subject any time she fits the criteria at the Heart Center.

For their contributions in helping researchers acquire knowledge about heart disease, Colucci and other research volunteers at the Heart Center were treated to an annual thank you luncheon at the DeMatteis Center on Northern Boulevard in Old Brookville. At this event Dr. Nathaniel Reichek, the director of Research and Education at St. Francis, described published research this past year that he said would not have been possible without the research volunteers. The Clinical Director of Cardiac MRI and CT, Dr. Jane Cao, profusely thanked the volunteers after she showed a PowerPoint presentation that illustrated that the incidence of heart disease has been steadily decreasing in the last five years. She attributed this improvement to the knowledge gained from studies involving volunteer research subjects.

Port Washington resident Arthur Holland, appreciates being thanked at the luncheons each year. Like Colucci, he thanks the DeMatteis Center in return as he unexpectedly had heart disease. He signed up as a research volunteer because, "It couldn't do any harm." He thought maybe the new technique at the DeMatteis Center might show something and it did. His arteries were partially blocked or clogged. Being in that particular study also provided him the opportunity to regularly use the gym facilities free several times a week so that another benefit was, "I also got into the habit of going to a gym and exercising regularly," he said. He continues to volunteer as a research subject any time he qualifies.

In her presentation, Dr. Cao showed results from heart studies such as the government-funded Framingham Heart Study that started in 1948. In 1957 heart disease was shown to be caused by high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In 1962 it was discovered that cigarette smoking contributed to heart disease. In 1967 research showed that physical activity was beneficial to heart health. In 1974 diabetes was shown to affect the heart. Also, it has been shown that a greater number of risk factors results in a higher possibility of heart disease. With advances in technology now the CAT scan can show blockages and hardening of the arteries. Cardiac MRIs can detect scar tissue and show undetected previous silent heart attacks.

Dr. Reichek described some of the findings from St. Francis Hospital's current research. Dr. Gupta and Dr. Goldman studied normal hearts and found differences between men and women. As you get older your heart gets smaller and blood pressure higher. At 50 years of age, the heart shrinks.

In the St. Francis Heart Study from 1996-2002, 20,000 people responded, 5,882 were screened, 1,005 participated in the double-blind study and approximately 4,600 participated in follow-up. This study generated two papers which were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in July 2005. The hospital now has an additional 3,000 participants in their research base. If you are interested in participating as a research subject, phone 629-2037 for a questionnaire to be filled out and returned to determine if you qualify.


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