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Stories from recent Cardiac patients

Mele Pochereva Heart Health

The following are four stories from recent cardiac patients who received their care at Castle Medical Center.

Open-hearted gratitude

Heart disease runs in Matt Bowden’s family. His mother died from the disease, and Bowden himself was on heart medication under the watchful care of his cardiologist, Michael Yee, M.D.

“We thought the meds were taking care of my heart condition, but I was having some discomfort,” Bowden says. An angiogram at Castle Medical Center’s Cath Lab revealed a potential problem: blocked arteries. Dr. Yee gave him the choice of having open-heart surgery right away or waiting.

“At first I wanted to wait,” says Bowden, who owns a plant nursery that keeps him physically active. “But I decided it would be better to have the surgery before the problem became an emergency.” Dr. Yee told Bowden that a quadruple bypass could give him another 30 years to live, and he referred him to his colleague at Castle, Henry Louie, M.D., F.A.C.S., a cardiothoracic surgeon, who performed the complex surgery.

“It was painful and humbling, but I was coached and supported every step of the way,” Bowden says.

He was grateful to be able to have the surgery at Castle, close to his family and work. “That was a big deal for me,” he says. “It’s not true that you have to go to town to get great medical care.”

Bowden recently turned 60, and among the birthday party guests were members of his Castle cardiac care team.

Back from the brink

Arnold Aguilar has finished four Honolulu Marathons in recent years. When he shared his story last fall, he was training for his fifth marathon, less than six months after collapsing, unconscious, from a heart attack and complete cardiac arrest.

Although he has family members who died at an early age from heart issues, Aguilar is a physically fit nonsmoker who had no signs of cardiac problems; heart failure was far from the 52-year-old’s mind. Today, he knows that he’s lucky to be alive, thanks to the quick actions of his good friend Peter and the excellent care of cardiologist Maria Markarian, D.O., F.A.C.C., and Castle Medical Center’s cardiology team.

Aguilar had arrived at Peter’s Kailua home one day last June, ready to help him build a lap pool. Suddenly, Aguilar fell to the ground with a grunt. Just another one of Aguilar’s practical jokes, Peter thought, but he soon realized that it was a medical emergency. Aguilar wasn’t breathing and had no pulse.

Peter began performing CPR as he called 911. It took some time for the ambulance to locate the house on a hard-to-find lane, Aguilar explains, and “for 20 minutes, Peter never gave up on me.”

Aguilar arrived at Castle’s Cath Lab still in acute respiratory failure, and Dr. Markarian discovered that he had 100 percent blockage of two arteries. Angioplasty stents restored the flow of blood to the heart, but Aguilar was in a coma, in critical condition. Family members were told to prepare for the worst.

Miraculously, he awoke after two days. Within three months he resumed his work as a medical assistant in Castle’s Behavioral Health Services Department and started his marathon training again. He knows that if he hadn’t been in such good physical shape, the results may have been very different.

Now, each time Aguilar visits Dr. Markarian, he thanks her for saving his life. Modestly, she points skyward—divine intervention. But Aguilar knows that the care he received from Dr. Makarian and the devoted nursing staff, together with the advanced technology available at Castle, also played a large role in bringing him back from the brink of death.

Rediscovering her nearest hospital

Ruth Barbadillo was folding laundry one Saturday morning last October when she began feeling dizzy and short of breath and then broke out in a sweat. She had learned about the warning signs of heart attack when she received CPR training as a preschool teacher, and she was pretty sure that what she was experiencing was something different. Her symptoms didn’t fit the usual profile for women having a heart attack. Besides, she was only 39 years old. Perhaps it was a negative reaction to her chemotherapy medication, she thought.

Nevertheless, Barbadillo called her father to the house just in case. When the pain in her chest intensified and she vomited, she knew they should drive to the nearest hospital. “That was a red flag for me,” she says.

At Castle Medical Center’s Emergency Department, she began to feel better with oxygen she was given, but when the pain and vomiting returned, more tests were ordered.

“My heartbeat was going up and down,” she recalls, so interventional cardiologist Maria Markarian, D.O., was called. “I was taken to the cath lab for an angiogram, where Dr. Markarian told me that if the problem could be fixed with a stent, they would do that procedure. The last thing I remember hearing was ‘Need to go to surgery.’”

It turned out that Barbadillo had a weakness in the wall of an artery that prevented the flow of blood to her heart—an unusual condition called dissection that, if not treated immediately, can lead to heart attack. Castle’s open-heart surgery team, led by Henry Louie, M.D., was called to action. Within a short time, Barbadillo was undergoing surgery to repair the artery. A portion of a vein taken from her leg was grafted onto the artery to replace the damaged vessel. Within 12 hours, she was up and walking about her hospital room.

Barbadillo was a teenager the last time she needed services at Castle. Much has changed in the past two decades, and today she is glad to know the specialized services she needed are available right here in Windward O‘ahu, minutes from her home.

Quality care wins her heart

When Heidi Woo and her husband, Brad Yankiver, arrived in Hawai‘i last August, they surely weren’t expecting that she would spend part of their vacation in a hospital; and at age 32, a defibrillator definitely wasn’t on the list of souvenirs Woo hoped to take home.

The couple was hiking the popular Pillboxes trail in Lanikai with friends when Woo collapsed from what was later diagnosed as ventricular fibrillation, a life-threatening condition in which heart muscles fail, causing abnormal heart rhythm.

Far from access to a defibrillator that could normalize her arrhythmia, Woo was lucky. Among their friends were a dermatologist and a nurse, who began CPR while others called for emergency medical services. She was airlifted by helicopter from the ridge trail and arrived at Castle Medical Center with a heartbeat, but still unresponsive.

She was put on a ventilator and administered therapeutic hypothermia, a body-cooling therapy that helps prevent brain injury and improves a patient’s chance of survival after cardiac arrest. Later, she had a defibrillator implant, a minimally invasive procedure to regulate her heartbeat.

Two days after her frightening experience, Woo was sitting up in bed using her iPad. After returning home to San Francisco, she wrote to express her gratitude for the care she received at Castle: “All I can say is that my recuperating heart is saturated with love and gratitude towards my amazing care team.” Although she doesn’t remember much about her hospital stay, especially during her first few days, she adds, “I feel beyond blessed and am comforted to know that I was surrounded by such wonderful people.”

With her new defibrillator, Woo’s prognosis is looking bright. Hopefully she will have the opportunity to return to Hawai‘i to complete her hike to the Pillboxes.