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Sheboygan couple experiences the benefits of integrated health care
Charlie and Susan Simon aren't likely to forget the date of their youngest daughter's high school graduation. Like many other parents, they anticipated their daughter graduation from Sheboygan North High School on Sunday, June 4. It was a day of celebration — filled with family, friends, fun and one big surprise.
Susan, who works at the Aurora Health Foundation as an Administrative Assistant, said. "I remember that we visited several graduation parties that day. When Charlie and I went to bed that evening, everything seemed fine. But a couple of hours later, Charlie woke me up, complaining of chest discomfort."
"It felt like someone had placed a hot iron on my chest," Charlie recalled. At first Susan thought he had indigestion from consuming an assortment of "party foods" that day. "Once I turned on the lights I knew something was really wrong. He was sweating profusely and in so much distress. This was more than just indigestion and we needed medical assistance," she added.
Susan called Aurora's Health Link telephone hotline (888-228-7672) which is staffed 24-hours a day, so callers can get immediate and confidential health care advice. Susan said, "It was about 12:30 a.m. and a nurse answered my call. I described the situation and she asked Charlie some questions. After hearing his responses, she said we needed to call 9-1-1 right away. The EMTs arrived quickly. They performed an EKG which showed that Charlie was in a "heart attack mode.""
According to the Simons, the EMTs transported Charlie to Aurora Sheboygan Memorial Medical Center's Emergency Department (ED) where it was confirmed that he was indeed having a heart attack. The ED physicians determined he needed to be transferred to Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee for emergency surgery. "The staff at Sheboygan Memorial was terrific," Charlie said. "Everyone was very efficient. I knew I was in good hands. They constantly communicated with me, each step of the way. The Sheboygan Memorial staff also communicated with the cardiac staff at St. Luke's so they could prepare for my arrival. Before long, a Flight for Life helicopter arrived to take me to Milwaukee."
During the 23-minute ride from Sheboygan to Milwaukee, a doctor and a nurse kept monitoring Charlie's medical condition and administering nitroglycerine, as well as keeping the cardiac staff at St. Luke's apprised of his situation.
St. Luke's is recognized as one of the top cardiac care centers in the country. It is considered the "flagship" hospital of the Aurora system. As an accredited Chest Pain Center, it performs more heart procedures than any other heart hospital in Wisconsin. Because of the high volume of cardiac procedures performed there, St. Luke's offers the latest technology and dedicated heart care units staffed by highly experienced teams of physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists and technicians.
"A cardiologist, Yoseph Shalev, MD, was waiting for me as the helicopter touched down," Charlie said. "Things happened very rapidly after that. It was determined that I needed an angioplasty procedure because one of my arteries was 100% blocked. The St. Luke's staff explained exactly what was happening throughout the procedure, which was comforting."
During angioplasty, a catheter is fed into the femoral artery of the upper leg and up into coronary arteries to the area of blockage. A dye is released, allowing visualization of the blockage. A mesh stent is placed on a balloon-tipped catheter. The balloon is carefully inflated, opening the artery. The stent holds the artery open after the catheter is removed. Charlie's cardiac procedure was completed before Susan and their daughter could drive from Sheboygan to St. Luke's, approximately one hour later.
Time lost is muscle lost
In a heart emergency such as Charlie's, every minute counts, as time lost is heart muscle lost. The longer a heart attack goes on without medical intervention, the more likely that permanent heart muscle damage will occur. Looking back, Charlie and Susan made an important decision that may have saved his life — they sought medical care immediately after realizing that something was wrong.
Dealing with a heart attack came as quite a surprise to the Simon family, as Charlie had always been healthy. He had no family history of heart disease and maintained a healthy weight and exercised several times a week.
After surgery, Charlie remained hospitalized at St. Luke's for about four days before returning home. He said, "I was so impressed with the care I received at St. Luke's and throughout the Aurora system. Everybody (nurses, doctors, interns and other staff) I was involved with, really wanted to be there and it showed. They showed genuine care and concern."
After being discharged, Charlie was referred to George Kuttickat, MD, a cardiovascular disease specialist at Aurora Sheboygan Clinic, to receive follow-up care closer to home. Charlie is currently taking drugs to lower his cholesterol, thin the blood and reduce his risk of having another heart attack. He has also changed his diet and reduced his salt intake. "No more French fries or fried chicken for me," he said proudly.
Charlie returned to work about five weeks after his heart attack and he continues on his road to recovery. "I'm just about back to normal," he said, "That includes doing yard work, playing a little golf, and, of course, I'm still exercising."
Offering coordinated, seamless care to patients
Patients like Charlie benefit from the full continuum of medical care Aurora offers as an integrated system. All of its clinics, hospitals, physicians and staff are linked together to offer the right care, at the right time and in the right place — whether patients live in a small town or a big city.
The public may not realize that as a not-for-profit system, Aurora Health Care reinvests all of its revenues, in excess of expenses, back into its mission of improving health care. However, patient and insurance revenues do not cover all the costs of expensive equipment and services needed to diagnose and treat illness. Philanthropic gifts are needed to make up the difference.
Without philanthropic support, Aurora's physicians wouldn't have access to the latest technology and advances in diagnostics and procedures that save many patients' lives each year.
Grateful patients such as Charlie and Susan Simon learned firsthand that having convenient access to the highest level of medical care, when they needed it most, was a life-changing (and possibly life-saving) experience they're not likely to ever forget.