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Know Your (Calcium) Score

West Feliciana Hospital nurse Misty Metz (center) pictured with her parents, Jeannie and Kim Kimball. In March 2019, Kim and Jeannie took part in a calcium score screening as part of the hospital’s heart health assessment. The test revealed that Kim had coronary artery disease, an underlying condition that could have been life-threatening in the future.

Calcium-containing plaques can seriously damage your heart’s health. Fortunately there’s a quick, easy test to measure for it.

When West Feliciana Hospital RT (Radiologic Technologist) Misty Metz first encouraged her parents to get a cardiac calcium score screening, she never imagined she would be saving her father’s life. 

In March of 2019, Misty’s parents—St. Francisville natives Kim and Jeannie Kimball—came to West Feliciana Hospital for a heart health screening, and what they discovered proved to be quite a wake-up call. 

The Kimballs, who were both age 58 at the time, lead active lifestyles. They assumed that the manual labor involved with caring for livestock on their family farm, and maintaining a 120-acre land lease, was keeping them physically fit. 

As part of their heart health assessments, Kim and Jeannie each performed a cardiac stress test. Even with Jeannie’s existing heart condition—she’s had to watch her blood pressure since her late 20s—they both aced it. 

“After I did my stress test, the technician told me I had the heart of a 30-year-old,” says Kim.

But even if your body looks and feels like it is in sound health, that may not necessarily be the case, as the couple’s calcium scores revealed. Within three months of their screenings, Kim underwent a successful open heart surgery, while Jeannie had had two stents placed in her coronary arteries.

How a Calcium Screening Works

A calcium score screening, also known as a coronary calcium scan, is a non-invasive procedure that uses a specialized X-ray test known as a HeartSaver CT scan to measure the level of calcium within your heart’s arteries.

As you age, calcium-containing plaque deposits can build up, causing arterial narrowing or blockage, decreasing blood flow and weakening your cardiovascular system. A calcium score screening is the only procedure capable of producing 3-D images of the heart. These images allow doctors to detect coronary artery disease far earlier—often before other symptoms of coronary artery disease, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, are present.

In Kim’s case, while his stress test suggested a heart capable of handling strenuous physical activity, an abnormally high calcium score revealed that his arteries contained significant calcium buildup.

“The test breaks the stereotype for heart disease,” explains Misty, who has worked in the hospital’s imaging department for nearly three years. She and her husband, West Feliciana Parish Council member Justin Metz, reported average scores. 

“It’s like having a good tractor with bad hydraulics,” Kim says. “My heart was strong, but it couldn’t outlast bad pipes.” 

Providing Peace of Mind

Upon receiving his results, Kim consulted a cardiologist who recommended that he undergo triple bypass surgery. The procedure improves blood flow to the heart by using vessels from other parts of the body to bypass blockages.

If he elected not to have the surgery, Kim risked suffering a heart attack later in life. It was a chance he wasn’t willing to take. 

“If it wasn’t for the calcium score, we wouldn’t have ever moved forward with surgery,” says Kim. “For just a five-minute check, this test can give you peace of mind.” 

You can have a complete heart health assessment performed at West Feliciana Hospital for $99. To schedule an appointment, call (225) 635-2443.

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