July 12 2016

St. Elizabeth Hospital’s Heart, Lung and Vascular Center Celebrates 25 years of Healing Hearts 


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(APPLETON, Wis.) — The heart of Affinity Health System’s cardiovascular program is pumping stronger than ever after 25 years. In 1989, Dr. Zenoun Abouzelam joined the cardiovascular and thoracic surgery practice at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton and was instrumental in creating the St. Elizabeth Hospital Heart, Lung and Vascular Center, which opened in 1991. In the last two decades, the Heart, Lung and Vascular Center has grown from its original operations to a regional referral center serving thousands of patients each year.

“The first year we were able to grow the program significantly and as the staff became more experienced we started performing more complex cases,” said Dr. Abouzelam, explaining the goal at the start was to create a program for more difficult heart surgical cases. “We were the first in Northeast Wisconsin to perform minimally invasive aortic valve surgery and mitral valve repair and replacement surgery.”

Minimally invasive surgery benefits include a smaller incision, avoiding complete sternotomy (splitting bone), reduced pain, reduced blood loss and the need for blood transfusion, shorter hospital stay and the advantage of a faster recovery to resume normal activities. St. Elizabeth Hospital has emerged as a statewide leader for aortic, mitral and tricuspid valve minimally invasive surgery.

The cardiovascular team includes nurses who have been with the program since its inception. 

“I was working on the first day we did open heart surgery,” said Vicki Wills, registered nurse, St. Elizabeth Hospital. “The one thing that hasn't changed is the great care that is given to each and every patient.”

"He is one of the best,” said Dianne Gieryn, a registered nurse who has worked with Dr. Abouzelam since the beginning of the program.

“He would be doing my surgery if I had the choice,” said Traci Behnke, patient care services manager. “I think he’s the best in the nation.” 

“It’s a credit to everyone on our team to feel that the people who work with you feel that this is the best place to have heart surgery and it’s an example of how they trust the system, the team and the results,” Dr. Abouzelam added. Additional nurses who have been with the program since its inception include Nan Krizenesky, Diane Schraufnagel, Susan Evans, Eileen Monroe, Diane Tate-Holewinski, Ann Tayler, and Sharon Wollerman who worked for Dr. Abouzelam prior to his arrival at St. Elizabeth Hospital. “I have been blessed with a lot of great co-workers and physicians over the years,” added Wollerman. “We maintain the philosophy of treating patients like we and our families want to be treated.”

In January, the St. Elizabeth Hospital Cardiac Surgery Program earned the highest quality designation for aortic valve replacement surgery, a 3-star rating from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS). STS uses a comprehensive rating system to measure the quality of cardiac surgery programs across the country. In the analysis of national data covering 2014 and 2015, aortic valve replacement surgery at St. Elizabeth Hospital was placed in this distinguished, highest quality tier. Typically, less than 8 percent of hospitals nationwide receive a 3-star rating.

Dr. Abouzelam has practiced all aspects of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery for Affinity Health System since 1989 and became the medical director of cardiothoracic surgery in 2004. He estimates he’s performed more than 10,000 surgeries, including 5,000 open heart surgeries, in the Fox Valley.



About Ministry Health Care
Ministry Health Care (ministryhealth.org) which includes Affinity Health System, is an integrated healthcare delivery network serving more than 1.1 million people across Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. Ministry generates nearly $2.2 billion in annual operating revenue with 15 hospitals, 46 clinics and 10,000 associates, including 700 physicians and advanced practice clinicians. In 2013, Ministry Health Care joined Ascension, the largest Catholic and not-for-profit healthcare system in the nation. In that same year, Ministry became part of Integrated Health Network (IHN), which represents more than 5,000 physicians, 500 clinics and 42 hospitals in northern, central and eastern Wisconsin. IHN was created to improve the quality, efficiency and value of healthcare services in the markets served by its members.

Ministry is ranked among the top 20 percent of healthcare systems in the country according to Truven Health Analytics, and five Ministry hospitals are ranked in the top 10 in the state in Medicare’s Hospital Value Based Purchasing (VBP) program. Network Health, co-owned by Ministry Health Care and Froedtert Health, has received 4½-star recognition by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for its Medicare Advantage plans.

About Ascension
Ascension (ascension.org) is a faith-based healthcare organization dedicated to transformation through innovation across the continuum of care. As the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system, Ascension is committed to delivering compassionate, personalized care to all, with special attention to persons living in poverty and those most vulnerable. In FY2015, Ascension provided nearly $2 billion in care of persons living in poverty and other community benefit programs. Approximately 160,000 associates and 36,000 aligned providers serve in 2,500 sites of care – including 141 hospitals and more than 30 senior living facilities – in 24 states and the District of Columbia as part of Ascension’s Healthcare Division. Through its Solutions Division, Ascension subsidiaries provide a variety of services and solutions including physician practice management, venture capital investing, investment management, biomedical engineering, clinical care management, information services, risk management, and contracting through Ascension’s own group purchasing organization.

About Ascension Wisconsin
Ascension Wisconsin serves millions of people across the state with 24 hospitals and hundreds of sites of care. Approximately 23,500 associates, including nearly 1,000 medical group clinicians work collaboratively to deliver compassionate, personalized care every day. As part of Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system, in fiscal year 2015, Ascension Wisconsin provided $300 million in community benefit including care of persons living in poverty. 

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