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WCCO's Frank Vascellaro Gets To The Heart Of The Matter

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Despite what we hear about diet and exercise, looking into our past is the best way to predict our future when it comes to heart disease.

As important as Frank Vascellaro's family is to him, it turns out they're even more important to his health.

When someone asked Frank if he wanted to find out what his chances for heart disease looked like, he was nervous. But he also wanted to find out because he realizes early detection and prevention can save your life.

"My family history is like two very different tales," Frank said. "My father passed away when he was 64. He had a brother that died when he was 51. And then on my mom's side, a ton of longevity. My mom's going to be 94. She has a brother who's 98, a sister who's 88. "

"It makes me wonder now as I get older, what deck of cards am I playing with?"

To find out, Frank checked himself in to the Rasmussen Center for Cardiology Disease Prevention. The clinic at the University of Minnesota Health is a one-stop, two-hour heart check up designed by Dr. Jay Cohn.

"We're measuring the early biological phases of heart disease," Cohn said.

The 87-year-old cardiologist explains this is not how the medical community typically treats a disease more deadly than any cancer.

"Half the American population is going to die from a cardiovascular morbid event," Cohn said.

"Did you have a nirvana moment or something that made you say I need to take a different approach?" Frank said.

"I came to the realization, well why are we waiting until they get sick to slow progression of disease? Why don't we intervene at an earlier stage?" Cohn said.

"My mother's side a lot of longevity. My father's side unfortunately not," Frank said. "Do you think you'll be able to take a look at me and get a pretty good idea of where I might fall?"

"Oh sure," Cohn said.

Natalia Florea, MSc, Cardiac Ultrasound Tech with University of Minnesota Health, hooks Frank up to an electrocardiogram. The EKG provides a baseline for Dr. Cohn's team looking for signs of disease in Frank's heart, arteries and veins.

"What's my resting right now, about?" Frank said.

"Fifty, you're on 50," Natalia said.

"Oh good," Frank said.

There's an ultrasound of Frank's neck to check the carotid arteries.

"So you see like a little white spot right there? That's a little bit building up," Natalia said.

A test designed by Dr. Cohn and others at the U of M measures the elasticity of arteries.

"I'm picking up really good looking wave form," Natalia said. "I'm predicting very good results of that one."

Then a look inside Frank's eyes where blood vessels can mimic the condition of arteries near the heart.

Thankfully, nothing shows up.

Another test checks for shortness of breath.

"You're really really good up there," Natalia said.

"My wife would say a lot of hot air, Natalia," Frank said.

"If you score zero here, that means all the tests we did on heart and blood vessels were normal," Nurse practitioner Lynn Hoke said.

Hoke reviews lab tests, family history, diet and exercise.

"If you score 20 that means they're all abnormal," Hoke said. "So based on that score, we decide how aggressive we need to be with prevention."

At the end of Frank's two hour appointment, he's anxious to learn the results.

"Well the good news, Frank, is that you look more like your mother than your father," Cohn said.

"That's great news," Frank said.

Frank didn't get a perfect score. Because of the small abnormality they found on his carotid artery, he got a two. They want him to come back in about three years to check on it.

But it really was such a relief to get the information, and Dr. Cohn says Frank should probably live to be 100.

If someone with heart disease in their family wants to go through the clinic, the clinic tells us insurance covers most patients.

But for people without coverage, the out of pocket is just more than $1,500.

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