WKYT Investigates | Dirty heroin needles causing heart troubles in young adults

Published: Feb. 27, 2017 at 4:47 PM EST
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There is a growing problem, rippling from the state's drug epidemic. Heart surgeons are replacing heart valves in young adults.

"Most healthcare problems and crises don't involve heart surgeons," explained Dr. Anthony Rogers with Baptist Health Medical Group. But this crisis is changing the patients he sees.

Dr. Rogers has been operating on the heart for more than 30 years. He's seen just about everything, except this. "This without a doubt, I think, is the biggest healthcare crisis that I've been a part of," he told WKYT's Miranda Combs.

Dr. Rogers usually has the market on the elderly, dealing with aging hearts. But lately, his patients are in their 20s, or even younger.

"The drug's needles are infected, so the patients are getting infected with bacteria in their heart valves," he said. "The valves are very delicate structures."

Dr. Rogers said it's not necessarily the long-time drug users he's seeing. It can just take one dirty needle, and many times the patient is near death by the time he sees them.

"These infections get on these valves, they stick to these valves, and with time the infections progress and they actually destroy the valves."

The only option for Dr. Rogers is to perform a heart valve replacement, which is not a simple surgery. "The majority of these patients, almost all of them, we have to do the big incision on the front part of their chest."

Dr. Rogers said, "The problem with these younger people we are dealing with is they are not responsible. You have to be on blood thinners, and many of these people aren't responsible to be on that, so we put a valve in that simply will not last over ten years or so, so they then have to be replaced."