Opening the Doors to a New
Era of Cardiac Care

In just a few weeks, Mercy General
Hospital will celebrate the opening...

read more

Sleep Like a Baby
as a New Parent

It's one of the most common
effects of being a new parent...

read more

Tax Time: What Every
Woman Needs to Know

Our April tax deadline is just a few
weeks away however if you are like...

read more

Head Injuries: Warning Signs
You Need to Know

We've all bumped our heads before,
due to a fall, a sports injury...

read more

Colorectal Cancer:
Know Your Risk

It's a disease that doesn't get much
publicity, but if you are over 50 or...

read more

Opening the Doors to a New Era of Cardiac Care

In just a few weeks, Mercy General Hospital will celebrate the opening of the Alex G. Spanos Heart and Vascular Center. The 123,000 square foot facility will be the hospital's new main entrance and will house four cardiac surgery operating rooms, including a state-of-the-art hybrid operating suite; 20 cardiac surgery intensive care unit beds; 70 private medical/surgical patient rooms; cardiac outpatient prep/recovery unit; cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation; cardiopulmonary services area; and a new chapel. The opening of the Spanos Center culminates years of planning, construction and philanthropic support.

"This new facility ensures that our program looks like what it is - a world class heart and vascular program," explains Doris Frazier, RN, MS, Vice President Cardiovascular Services, Mercy General Hospital and Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento. "The Spanos Center provides our physicians with the opportunity to access changing technology and consolidates our cardiovascular services under one roof. For patients, they will have greater convenience, comfort and a wonderful environment in which to receive care."

Mercy General Hospital's cardiovascular services have earned recognition as among the best in the nation. In 2013, Truven Health Analytics recognized Mercy General as a national "Top 50 Cardiovascular Hospital." Mercy General is also the first hospital in the region to become an Accredited Chest Pain Center, and recently received Certification in Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), both from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care (SCPC), an organization that recognize the hospital's commitment to providing the highest quality care possible to patients with cardiovascular disease. Mercy General is part of Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento, which performs more cardiac surgeries every year than any other team in the state.

Mercy General and Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute offer patients some of the most advanced treatments available in Northern California, including:

Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR):  Mercy General Hospital is among the select providers nationwide to offer patients this less invasive valve replacement procedure for critical aortic stenosis. With TAVR, surgeons are able to replace the aortic valve without opening the chest, as is necessary during traditional open heart valve replacement surgery. As the highest volume center and the only clinical research site in the Sacramento area, the Mercy General TAVR team has access to the latest TAVR valves for patient treatment.

Ventricular Assist Device (VAD):  Mercy General Hospital recently received the gold seal of approval from the Joint Commission as a Ventricular Assist Device Center for Destination Therapy. A Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) is a mechanical pump implanted in patients with advanced heart failure to dramatically improve their quality of life. A VAD can be used while the patient awaits a heart transplant or to improve symptoms for patients who are not transplant candidates. This highly specialized service is provided by clinicians with extensive experience and training in heart failure management.

daVinci Si HD Surgical System:  Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute surgeons have the most experience in Northern California in performing robotic-assisted valve surgery and other robotic assisted cardiac surgical procedures. The daVinci system typically provides patients with a quicker recovery, less pain, less bleeding and a shorter hospital stay.

Advanced Aortic Disease Treatments:  Complex aortic aneurysm diagnosis and treatment is provided by the cardiac and vascular surgeons with the Dignity Health Heart & Vascular Institute. Skilled in both surgical and catheter-based interventions, these surgeons are able to individualize the best treatment options for patients.

Atrial Fibrillation and Ventricular Tachycardia Ablations:  Atrial fibrillation is the most common of heart rhythm conditions, and the cardiac electrophysiologists at Mercy General Hospital are renowned in their clinical expertise and experience in treating this rhythm abnormality. For those suffering from debilitating ventricular rhythm abnormalities, these physicians are highly skilled in ventricular ablations and other treatments such as implantable defibrillators.

Hybrid Cath Lab/Surgical Suite:  Many of these complex minimally invasive procedures require an advanced procedure room --a hybrid cath lab/ surgical suite. These suites combine the high-definition imaging capabilities of a traditional cath lab with the advanced surgical equipment of a full cardiac operating room. This hybrid space allows physicians the freedom to diagnose and treat in one space, with improved efficiency and safety for certain high-risk procedures.

Advanced Heart Disease Clinic:  Dignity Health Heart & Vascular Institute developed the Advanced Heart Disease Clinic to partner with referring physicians in the management of complex heart conditions. The Clinic physicians provide access to the advanced diagnostics and treatments options available for the individualized care, while the nurse coordinators help guide the patient through the variety of testing and follow up required for the advanced or complex conditions.

To learn more about the services provided by the Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute team, visit their website.

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Head Injuries: Warning Signs You Need to Know

By Jennifer Jennings, MD

We've all bumped our heads before, due to a fall, a sports injury, an accident... The odd bump and bruise is commonplace. Usually the injury is minor and quickly forgotten. But do you know the warning signs that indicate when a bump to the head could be something more serious? March is National Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month - a great time to get familiar with what you need to watch for if someone you care about suffers an injury to the head.

Traumatic brain injuries occur when a bump, bolt, blow, jolt or other injury causes damage to the brain. Every year, millions of Americans of all ages suffer brain injuries, with more than half needing to be hospitalized. Half of all brain injuries are caused by car accidents but many occur during sports or every day activities. Symptoms of a brain injury may not appear immediately - it could be a few hours or even days.

When facing an injury to the head, it is important to note that your skull actually provides very good protection for your brain. The skull is made up of thick, strong bone, cushioning your fragile brain. While some head injuries are obvious, others can be more subtle - if the skin does not break, it is hard to tell what may be going on beneath the skull surface. That is when it is especially important to pay attention to the person's behavior and symptoms.

A concussion is the mildest form of brain injury. Symptoms include headache, neck pain, nausea, ringing in the ears, dizziness and/or tiredness. If symptoms progress or worsen, that could be evidence of a more serious brain injury.

Once an injury occurs, it can be helpful to know how and where the head was hit. For instance, bumping into a stationery object at a low speed is much less concerning than a moving object (like a bat) hitting the head or a fall that happens while your body is in motion (like while skiing). In addition, take note of the area of the head that was involved. The skull above the ear is a much thinner layer of bone and is also home to an artery. An injury to that area is far more worrisome than an injury to the top of the head or the forehead, where the skull bone is thick.

It is important to know the warning signs of a moderate or severe head injury. Get help immediately if the injured person has:

  • A headache that gets worse or does not go away
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • An inability to wake up
  • Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs
  • Loss of coordination
  • Increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation

People taking blood thinners or a daily aspirin regimen are more likely to suffer a dangerous head injury because of their heightened risk for bleeding. In those cases, contact the person's primary care doctor immediately following the injury to see if follow up care is necessary.

Dr. Jennifer Jennings is a neurosurgeon, practicing at Capital Neurosurgery. For more information, visit their website.

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Sleep Like a Baby as a New Parent

It's one of the most common effects of being a new parent - the misery of sleep deprivation. Whether your baby sleeps in short bursts, sleeps during the day but not at night, or simply never sleeps at all, chances are your sleep habits will change dramatically after you have a baby. However a study shared in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that the problem for most new mothers isn't the quantity of sleep but rather the quality of sleep. And - good news - there are things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep.

The study - which looked at mothers' sleep for the first four months after their baby's birth - found that on average, new mothers get about 7.2 hours of sleep daily. That is actually slightly more than the average American. But it is no surprise that most new mothers feel exhausted because the study also found that the moms were experiencing sleep that was "highly fragmented" - which means they were not able to settle into the truly deep, restorative sleep which nourishes our mind and body. The researchers found that the mothers' sleep patterns mimic that of people who suffer from sleep disorders like sleep apnea.

To understand the problem behind fragmented sleep, you need to understand the sleep cycle: When we sleep, our brains go through a pattern of definitive cycles, each one lasting 90 to 120 minutes. So every hour and a half to two hours, you should fall into the deep sleep that is key to feeling rested the next day. However, when something awakens you every two to three hours, you may never reach that deep sleep or your deep sleep may be interrupted. In the case of new parents, that "something" is your precious bundle of joy!

So what can a new mom do to address her need for more quality sleep? First, have your partner take at least one nighttime waking. By sleeping through one waking, you will hopefully be able to string together enough hours of sleep to ensure that you hit the entire sleep pattern, including the deep sleep that is so critical. Of course, for this plan to work you need to ensure that you will be able to sleep through your baby's cries - so consider sleeping in a different room without the baby monitor.

Another great idea is to give yourself the time to nap for an entire sleep cycle. While a 20-minute nap might be enough for a person who is usually well-rested, once you hit the sleep deprived stage you really need a full 90 minutes. This will allow you to reach deep sleep and wake up feeling more rested. You've probably heard the old adage of "sleep when your baby sleeps" - well if your baby is a great daytime napper, then that adage is meant for you!

Finally, be aware of your mood and the impact your sleep (or lack thereof) is having on your spirit. The first four months after a baby's birth can be emotionally challenging and made even more difficult by lack of sleep. If you feel hopeless or depressed, contact your physician immediately. As with all things related to having a new baby, never hesitate to ask for help!

To learn more about Dignity Health's Family Birth Centers and classes and events available to new or future parents, visit our website.

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Colorectal Cancer: Know Your Risk

It's a disease that doesn't get much publicity, but if you are over 50 or have a family history you need to know about colorectal cancer. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month - a good time to make yourself more informed about this disease, which ranks as the third most common type of cancer for both men and women.

Colorectal cancer is a disease in which cells in the colon or rectum (two parts of your body's digestive system) become abnormal, forming a tumor. These cancerous cells can destroy tissue around them and may also spread to other parts of the body. Colorectal cancer is the second most deadly type of cancer, behind only lung cancer, claiming nearly 50,000 lives every year.

While the exact causes of colorectal cancer remain unknown, there are certain factors which have been linked to an increased risk for developing the disease.

  • Age:  Colorectal cancer is more common among older people. While it can occur at any age, it is most common among people over 50.

  • Polyps:  Polyps are abnormal growths in the inner wall of the colon or rectum. While they are fairly common in people over the age of 50 and most are benign, polyps can be a risk factor for colorectal cancer.

  • Personal History:  Women who have a history of ovarian, uterine or breast cancer have a higher than average chance of developing colorectal cancer.

  • Family History:  Immediate family members (parents, siblings and children) of a person who has had colorectal cancer are somewhat more likely to develop this cancer themselves. This is especially true if the family member was diagnosed at a young age.

  • Ulcerative Colitis:  Ulcerative colitis is a condition that causes inflammation in the lining of the colon. People with this condition may be more likely to develop colorectal cancer.

  • Diet:  Some research suggests that eating a lot of red and processed meats and not enough fiber (from whole grains, fruits and vegetables) may increase your risk for colorectal cancer.

  • Exercise:  A sedentary lifestyle is believed to be associated with an increased risk for colorectal cancer.

  • Smoking:  Cigarette smoking - particularly long-term smoking - increases your risk for colorectal cancer.

If you have an elevated risk for developing colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about getting screened. Colorectal screening is particularly helpful because it can not only detect cancer, but also polyps and lesions, which are flat or slightly depressed areas of abnormal cell growth. The early abnormal cell growth is detected, the better your treatment options.

Talk to you physician about your risk factors and be proactive in your healthcare!

For more information about Dignity Health's colorectal screening program, visit our website.

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Tax Time: What Every Woman Needs to Know

Our April tax deadline is just a few weeks away however if you are like many Americans, you haven't even started preparing your taxes yet. But with the deadline looming, now is the time to get a solid understanding of your finances. Whether you are the financial guru in your family or you rely on your husband or your accountant to manage your tax return, there are some simple things that every woman should know about her tax return.

First, tax time is the time to get your financial documents in order. These documents include your W-2s, bank and investment statements, business receipts, etc. If you did not have a good filing system last year, put one in place for next year. You will thank yourself next April! Not having the appropriate documentation makes preparing your return more difficult and can put you in a dangerous position if you were to be audited.

Second, you need to know what deductions you can legally apply for. If you pay someone to watch your child while you work, you will qualify for a credit of up to 35%. If you did work on your home that made it more energy efficient, you may qualify for a deduction. Talk with your accountant or consult for more information on deductions.

Once you are ready to fill out your tax forms, consider using a tax software program to prepare your return. Filling out paper returns can be challenging and time consuming. For as little as $20-75 you can purchase an at-home tax preparation software program that will walk you through the process. This is much cheaper than hiring an accountant and enables you to file electronically, meaning you could receive your federal return (if you are receiving one!) in as little as ten days.

If your income is $57,000 or less, the IRS offers free electronic filing through its Free File service ( Those with income of $50,000 or less can use the IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, which offers free tax filing by volunteers at community centers, libraries and shopping malls across the country (call 800-906-9887 to find the center nearest you). And for those 60 or older, AARP offers Tax-Aide through the IRS's Tax Counseling for the Elderly Program; call 888-227-7669.

Finally, if someone else prepared your return (spouse, friend or accountant), there are five pages on your return that you need to be familiar with and understand.

Page 1:  statement of income and adjusted gross income

Page 2:  summary of deductions and credits; your taxable income is determined by subtracting deductions and credits from adjusted gross income

Schedule A:  itemized deductions, which summarizes interest deduction

Schedule B:  interest and ordinary dividends, which totals invest income

Schedule D:  capital gains and losses, which indicates whether you must pay tax on gains from the sale of assets

Understanding these pages and the information on them will enable you to understand your annual finances better and to have a better grasp on your taxes - whether you owe or will be receiving a return. And, like most things in life, when it comes to taxes, knowledge is power - the more you know about this year's taxes the better prepared you will be for next year!

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