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Lee Health Using Cleerly and Artificial Intelligence to Prevent Heart Disease and Faster Predict Many Coronary Concerns

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(Fort Myers, Fla. – Sept. 18, 2023) --- Fort Myers resident Bob Freiburger has always had an interest in heart health. He has a family history of cardiac concerns, most notably a sibling who died from a sudden cardiac event. Because of that, the seemingly healthy 77-year-old jumped at the chance to take a closer look at his own heart health.

“I love data and I’ve always been interested in the science of medicine,” Freiburger said. “I’m a huge advocate for preventive medicine. This was a no brainer. The technology can save lives and I had a great experience. I think this is something everyone should do.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one person dies every 33 seconds in the United States from heart disease which is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

Many heart attacks can be prevented if plaque in arteries can be accurately identified in advance. Up until now, there wasn’t a viable way to determine how much plaque had built up in a patient’s arteries.

Plaque or atherosclerosis is made of cholesterol, fatty substances, cellular waste products, calcium and fibrin (a clotting material in the blood). It can partially or totally block blood flow through large or medium-sized arteries in the heart, brain, pelvis, legs, arms or kidneys, which can lead to heart disease, reduced blood flow to the heart, and other serious concerns.

Lee Health is leveraging its well-established coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA) program with artificial intelligence (AI) from a company called Cleerly. This is an advanced tool that provides physicians and patients detailed, quantitative information about the amount of plaque in the arteries to the heart down to the cubic millimeter. This can identify patients who are at an increased risk for developing a heart attack (and some who may be at a high risk) prior to the development of any symptoms.

Using millions of annotated CCTA images, Cleerly AI algorithms quantify and characterize plaque and its features. The findings are then compared to raw images, analyzed by a trained physician.

Lee Health was the first hospital system in Florida to provide this specific non-invasive, AI-powered imaging to rapidly detect plaque buildup, predict potential heart problems and better help prevent heart disease. The cardiologists and radiologists at Lee Health have the most experience utilizing this technology of anyone in the region.

“It truly is exciting to be able to offer this type of preventative treatment to the Southwest Florida community and beyond,” said Vice President and Chief Physician Executive for the Lee Health Heart Institute, Dr. Malissa Wood. “We are always working on new technologies to offer our patients and the AI heart scans are a gamechanger. We are able to identify and characterize disease, then implement treatment. Further, we now have the ability to track heart disease over time and provide intervention to patients before they experience a problematic heart event. It will give us more insight into helping prevent heart disease and provide more personalized cardiac care.”

In as little as one-hour, the Lee Health CCTA program, utilizing AI, alongside a physician, can generate a report detailing characteristics of any present coronary artery plaque, and, thus suggesting the risk of a future heart attack. This allows early medical intervention for prevention of a heart attack.

“I felt good about my results,” Freiburger said. “I didn’t have any major concerns, but it did help give me peace of mind. Now, there is a baseline for when I go back to get rescanned in a few years and physicians will be able to have a very clear picture about what is going on in regard to my heart health.”

CCTA with AI is currently available through a self-pay program. Please contact Lee Health at 239- 343-7221 for more information.

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