Cardiovascular disease is almost single-handedly bankrupting the healthcare system, according to Bradley Bale, MD. And he's not content to sit back and let it.
In 1975, Bradley Bale, MD, an avid skier and mountain climber, bought into a company that began pioneering helicopter skiing in Canada. He and his colleagues skied mountains no human being had ever skied before.
“When you’re the first one, it’s kind of like a gold mine,” Bale recalls. “It’s your mountain.”
Bale has since sold the very successful company, but he has not stopped pioneering. A leading specialist in preventing heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes, Bale recently co-authored Beat the Heart Attack Gene with Amy Doneen, MSN, ARNP, to spread the word that all strokes and heart attacks are potentially preventable.
“We wrote the book to change healthcare,” Bale says. “And it’s going to take the public to get us there.”
Bale grew up in Kentucky, and his father was an “old-time country doctor” who was well respected in a relatively small town.
“Many times he got paid with chickens or fresh milk off the farm,” Bale says. “We didn’t live lavishly, but we didn’t starve either. And I saw in him a great example of medicine as a way to help people.”
Bale was also witness to a traumatic experience as a 5-year-old. He watched as his grandmother on his father’s side experienced a massive heart attack and died. She was 65 years old. He watched his father cry at the funeral and could sense his helplessness at having been unable to prevent the incident.
“That really made an impression on me,” Bale says. “I guess it was in my head: ‘maybe there’s something I can do so that we can prevent heart attacks.’”
For 25 years Bale ran one of the largest primary care practices in Spokane, WA. During those years, he says he had his share of patients who suffered heart attacks or strokes and either died or were left severely disabled. That troubled Bale, who says that in family medicine “patients are not numbers. They become friends, part of your family.”
At the time, a local cardiologist, Paul Shields, MD, had just purchased one of the first electron beam tomography machines, and was using it to detect calcification in the coronary arteries. He began educating Bale on the theory that a blood clot, not cholesterol build up, blocks the flow of blood in heart attack and stroke patients. That would explain why patients would pass a treadmill test, but shortly thereafter have a heart attack.
“The artery was wide open right up until they form that clot and have their event,” Bale explains. “[Coronary calcification testing] was a way to tell if a patient has disease in their arteries. And if they have disease, you can treat it and prevent them from having a heart attack.”
Bale began administering coronary calcification testing to patients where warranted, but it was one heart-breaking story that truly solidified his conviction in the treatment. A 56-year-old female patient, who had been a patient at Bale’s practice for 20 years, was experiencing chest pain. He sent her to a cardiologist, and an angiogram came back normal. Undeterred, Bale conducted a coronary calcification test, which came back positive.
“I put her on medication, and her symptoms went away,” Bale recalls. “All her labs looked great, so I told her I’d see her again in 6 months.”
Almost 6 months to the date, Bale’s nurse informed him that the woman had passed away, and that an autopsy indicated she died from a massive heart attack.
“I went into the bathroom and threw up,” Bale recalls. “You can’t imagine how I felt.”
He phoned the woman’s husband and apologized because it seemed the woman had been doing so well. The husband began to cry, and told Bale that several months ago their insurance had changed. Bale was not on their new plan. When the woman went to a new health group for a checkup, they said that Bale was a crazy doctor, and took her off the medications. Six weeks later she died of a heart attack.
More determined than ever
Shortly thereafter, in 2003, Bale co-founded the Heart Attack & Stroke Prevention Center, as well as the Bale/Doneen Method international preceptorship program, an accredited continuing medical education course teaching healthcare providers advanced techniques to detect, and reverse, cardiovascular disease before the patient experiences a heart attack or stroke.
But after 5 years and training approximately 200 physicians, Bale and Doneen determined they needed to step up their approach.
“The medical establishment is not going to initiate the migration to the new platform of healthcare—which needs to occur—which is prevention, or at minimum, treating the disease before it’s evident,” Bale explains. “The only way to potentially get it to happen is to write a book to educate the public. If the public demands this type of care, it will happen.”
Dedicated to the cause
Today Bale is medical director of the Heart Health Program at Grace Clinic in Lubbock, Texas, as well as a clinical assistant professor at the School of Medicine at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. He still loves being physically active, and with 44 years of marriage and 3 grandchildren under his belt, enjoys spending time with his family.
But he remains intensely focused on shifting the paradigm in the way healthcare approaches and treats cardiovascular disease.
“Cardiovascular disease, you can argue, is almost single-handedly bankrupting the healthcare system,” Bale explains. “We spend over $300 billion on cardiovascular disease now, and it’s predicted that by 2030 that figure will be $1.2 trillion. We can’t afford it financially, and we should not want to afford it from a humanitarian standpoint.”
Bale explains that the technology and knowledge exists to prevent arterial disease, or at minimum, treat it before it’s evident so the person never suffers a heart attack or stroke. Of the 3,500 patients he has treated with the Bale/Doneen Method, including many physicians with cardiovascular disease, only one had a heart attack, from which the patient made a full recovery. None have suffered strokes.
“It’s really not all that complicated,” he says. “You put the fire out in the arteries, and the disease will heal. The science is there. We need to use it now.”