Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson

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Medical Group clinic focuses on heart and lungs

By A1C Christopher R. Morales | 673d Air Base Wing / Public Affairs | July 17, 2017

Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska --

The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Hospital Cardiopulmonary Clinic is a specialty clinic concentrating on the heart and lungs.


With two pulmonologists, two cardiologists, one cardiology nurse practitioner, two nurses and 14 cardiopulmonary technicians, this clinic serves all Department of Defense military members and their dependents. Additionally, through a partnership with the Veterans Affairs hospital and the Alaska Native Medical Center, the clinic also treats veterans and eligible federal beneficiaries throughout Alaska.


Most of the Cardiopulmonary Clinic’s cases require a lot of coordination, but one of their most recent cases – involving a critical patient from a remote town off the Aleutian Islands – needed much more.


“What they have down there [in the Aleutian Islands] are clinics run by nurse practitioners and physician assistants,” said Caryn Clements, registered nurse-pulmonary for JBER Hospital Cardiopulmonary Services and VA. “When the patient came in, he had advanced Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.”


Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis is a disease in which tissue deep in the lungs becomes thick and stiff, or scarred, over time.  As the lung tissue thickens the patient has more difficulty breathing and the lungs can’t properly move oxygen into the bloodstream, so the brain and other organs don’t get the oxygen they need. When the cause of the disease is unknown these cases are called idiopathic. This patient had advanced Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and needed a lung transplant. To qualify for a lung transplant, he required a variety of additional tests. 


“What is difficult with these cases throughout Alaska – this being only one case – is trying to coordinate all their care while they are in town, because it can become very stressful for the patient and also the caregiver during this short period of time,” Clements said.


In this case the clinic carefully collaborated with the VA transplant coordinator and Washington’s lung transplant team. Since that time, the patient has received a successful transplant.


JBER Hospital’s Cardiopulmonary Clinic specializes in a variety of tests to better identify heart and lung problems. This clinic is only one of two in the state of Alaska to offer an electromagnetic navigational bronchoscopy, a complex procedure that combines electromagnetic navigation with real-time 3-D imaging during a biopsy to locate objects in the lungs like tumors.


“One of our specialized testing is called a cardiopulmonary-exercise test [commonly known as a cardiac stress test] which is an integration of breathing studies and heart [studies] at the same time [while the patient is walking on a treadmill or given a specific medication to increase work by the heart and lungs],” said Air Force Major Tokunbo Matthews, pulmonologist and critical care doctor. “[This procedure] requires a lot of effort on the technician’s side to set up the study for the cardiologist [or pulmonologist] who look at the patient’s [test results] and interpret the data [for the primary care provider in determining a treatment plan for the patient].”


Most institutions have separate Pulmonary and Cardiology departments, but together they are able to combine testing and medical experience to cases that closely involve both.


“A lot of our active duty patients we help out might have symptoms of shortness of breath and chest pain,” said Technical Sergeant Matthew Parker, noncommissioned officer in charge of Cardiopulmonary Services. “Together we are able to get as much testing done to diagnose them and get them cleared for deployment.”


This involves active duty members throughout the state, from Fairbanks to Juneau. When patients are flown in, their whole trip is coordinated, so they hit the ground running and have their tests done immediately.


The JBER hospital Cardiopulmonary Services Clinic is a specialty clinic that accepts referrals for testing along with advanced cardiopulmonary services and can be reached at 907-580-2060.


Taking care of your heart and lungs is paramount to good health and the JBER Hospital Cardiopulmonary Services department is poised to help you in that endeavor.

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