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Thursday, March 09, 2017, 7:20 AM 4:34 PM

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Working Together

Without Missing a Beat

“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. I know I’ll start crying, but you saved his life.” - Gloria Koppinger, LittletonAt 69, Alvin Koppinger tries to walk a few miles each day from 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 nearby forest fires. He already had an appointment scheduled at National Jewish Health with his allergist, Eileen Wang, MD, and thought he’d 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. When he explained his symptoms, Dr. Wang put him through a battery of respiratory tests, and to his surprise, it wasn’t his lungs after all.


A Quick Discovery

She had Alvin meet with Cardiologist Santi Yarlagadda, MD, who had Alvin take a cardiac stress test. Just a few minutes into the assessment, he started showing serious symptoms. She immediately stopped the test and sent him to the emergency room at Saint Joseph Hospital.

Alvin started feeling better quickly once he was on medication, but an angiogram performed by Saint Joseph Hospital Interventional Cardiologist Jake Chanin, MD, showed that his condition was actually quite serious.


In the Nick of Time

Alvin had significant stenosis, his arteries had narrowed by nearly 90 percent and the electrical impulses travelling to his heart were being interrupted. He was going to need a quadruple bypass and there was no time to wait.

“He was right on the verge of a severe heart attack,” said Mark Ammons, MD, the cardiac surgeon at Saint Joseph Hospital who performed Alvin’s bypass. “There is no question that it was a good call to get him over so quickly.”

This was all a bit of a shock for Alvin’s wife, Gloria. Before the stress test, they hadn’t realized he had any heart issues at all. “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,” she said. “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.”

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


A Thankful Heart

The Koppingers were so thankful for the people who helped them during their journey that they wrote individual letters to each of the doctors who worked with them. Gloria sent a heartfelt letter thanking all the staff and recognizing 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.”

“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.”