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Kaleida Health has started offering emergency angioplasty 24 hours a day, seven days a week for heart attack patients.

The hospital system's investment in the program follows similar decisions earlier this year by Erie County Medical Center and the Catholic Health System.

The programs fill a gap in the region's medical services.

For saving lives, the procedure to clear blocked arteries is considered superior in some instances to the clot-busting drugs that heart attack patients routinely receive, although experts in cardiology continue to debate whether and when angioplasty or clot-busting drugs should be used.

A growing number of hospitals, especially in larger cities, have surgical teams they can call in at night or on weekends to perform emergency angioplasties. In the Buffalo area, the procedure had been limited largely to daytime hours Monday through Friday, except at Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

"We have made a commitment to put in the infrastructure behind this service. It's the appropriate thing to do for the community," said Dr. Cynthia Ambres, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Kaleida Health.

Two Kaleida hospitals -- Buffalo General and Millard Fillmore -- offer elective angioplasty and emergency angioplasty during regular working hours. Off-hours emergency cases now will be concentrated at Buffalo General, which will accept patients transferred from DeGraff Memorial Hospital in North Tonawanda and Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital in Amherst, Ambres said.

Many patients undergo angioplasty as an elective procedure to prevent heart attacks. It involves threading a tiny tube called a catheter through arteries to unclog blockages.

Ambres expected Kaleida to handle about 50 emergency cases a year.


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