Working Together News

Without Missing a Beat: When Seamless Care Saves Lives

At 69, Alvin Koppinger tries to walk a few miles each day at his house in Littleton, CO. During the summer, he started having a difficult time making it the whole distance. “Sometimes I’d walk a tenth of a mile and I’d have to stop, put my hands on my knees and gather my breath until I could go on,” said Alvin.

At first he had thought his symptoms might be exacerbated by smoke in the air from forest fires a few states over. He had an appointment coming up at National Jewish Health with his allergist, Dr. Eileen Wang, and thought he’d wait to see if she could help.
“I thought it was my lungs. I thought I’d go in and she would get my meds corrected and everything would be okay,” said Alvin, but when he explained his symptoms, Dr. Wang put him through a battery of respiratory tests. To his surprise, she came back saying that it wasn’t his lungs after all. They were clear. She was referring him to a cardiologist.

Alvin made an appointment with a cardiologist at National Jewish Health. In September, Dr. Santi Yarlagadda had Alvin take a stress test. “During the stress test he started having pretty bad symptoms,” said Dr. Yarlagadda. “The person administering the test called my cell phone, and we decided to send him straight over to the hospital at St. Joes.”

“They wanted to take him by ambulance, but he’s pretty stubborn, so we drove there,” Alvin’s wife Gloria said teasingly. “I just saw dollar signs, so I figured if I could drive [to National Jewish Health], I can drive another mile [to Saint Joseph Hospital],” Alvin retorted.

Alvin was quickly checked into Saint Joseph Hospital’s emergency room. The medicine they gave him made him feel a lot better so the doctors hoped they might be able to put in stents instead of having to do major heart surgery. Once Saint Joseph Hospital’s interventional cardiologist, Dr. Jake Chanin, performed an angiogram, he realized it was much more extensive. “It looked like he was having a small heart attack,” Dr. Chanin said. “I called Mark Ammons, the cardiac surgeon, and said you really need to see this guy. He has major blockages.”

Alvin had significant stenosis. His arteries had narrowed by nearly 90 percent, and he had branch disease. “He was right on the verge of a severe heart attack,” said Dr. Ammons who performed a quadruple bypass on Alvin. “There is no question that it was a good call to get him over so quickly.”

“Time and time again each one of the doctors kept telling us how lucky we were that Alvin had not had a fatal heart attack,” said Gloria.  “I know I’ll start crying, but you saved his life. We didn’t know anything was wrong, and we are very lucky that nothing worse happened before we got to you.”

Alvin and Gloria were so thankful for the people that helped them during their journey that they wrote individual letters to each of the doctors that worked with them. Gloria sent a heartfelt letter thanking all the staff and recognized at least 25 individuals by name, even nominating a few for awards.

“Everyone that I have dealt with has been wonderful,” said Alvin. “It was a unique experience because you don’t always hear good stories about hospitals, but I can’t say anything negative about any aspect of it.”

“The nice thing is how seamless it runs between coming into the office at National Jewish Health, getting a stress test done, being admitted to the hospital, getting a catheterization and then shortly after going in for surgery,” said Dr. Chanin. “We all work so closely together that whether you’re involving the lung doctors or the cardiac surgeons, it pretty much is all one big team.”

“Starting with Dr. Wang, we smoothly moved through the system to where we needed to go and always knew that people were doing everything they could to help us,” said Gloria. “We’re lucky that National Jewish Health and Saint Joe’s work together.”

Thankfully Alvin is feeling much better. He is going to rehab each week and is back to walking every day.  “I feel pretty good,” said Alvin. “I don’t get short of breath going up and down our three sets of stairs in our house anymore, which for a while was a major struggle.”