Photographed by Michael Neveux
A former Marine, lifetime athlete and six-degree black belt in karate, 78-year-old Frank Halstead was working out with a heavy punching bag when he felt a deep ache in his chest. He rested a bit and the pain subsided. Then, two days later, as he was digging a hole in his yard, the pain returned, radiating from his chin to his elbow. Again, he ignored his symptoms.
He did not take the pain seriously until it returned a few days later as he walked up a slight incline. With a little nudging from his wife, Peggy, Halstead decided it was time to head to the emergency room at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro. Physicians there recognized that he had blockages in his heart and alerted their colleagues at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance that Halstead was stable and on his way for treatment.
Halstead was lucky. Although he suffered a heart attack, thanks to the cardiology teamwork at both hospitals and their collaboration with the Keck School of Medicine of USC, he underwent successful coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG) and soon returned to his remarkably active lifestyle.
Nazanin Azadi, MD, a board-certified cardiologist, met her patient in the emergency room. After performing an angiogram on Halstead, which revealed several blockages, Dr. Azadi recommended bypass surgery.
“I couldn’t believe it,” says Halstead. “When I had my last physical, everything was fine. No high blood pressure, no high cholesterol. My cousins had heart attacks in their 50s. I guess it is heredity.”
A healthy lifestyle is important for heart health, but it’s only part of the picture.
“There are certain things you can’t control, and that’s our age and family history,” says Dr. Azadi. “As we grow older, our risk of coronary events increases, regardless of how well we keep our blood pressure and cholesterol in check. And if you have a first-degree relative who’s had a cardiac event at a young age, you can’t control that either.”
A COLLABORATIVE, PATIENT-CENTERED APPROACH
The collaboration between the hospital and Keck Medicine of USC has allowed world-renowned academic cardiothoracic surgery like Halstead’s to be delivered to the South Bay area for the first time. Halstead’s surgery was performed by Matthew Powers, MD, assistant professor of clinical surgery at USC. The surgery went well, according to Dr. Powers, who used multiple arterial grafts to give his patient the best possible long-term outcome.
This collaborative team approach also means surgeons and cardiologists can work together, reviewing cases and offering patients interventions based on the most up-to-date scientific data.
“As a surgeon, this collaboration allows me to provide new innovations in coronary surgery, perform minimally invasive valve repair and complex aorta repair and treat failing hearts with mechanical support,” says Dr. Powers. “Many of these procedures were never thought possible in a community hospital.”
This approach is not only collaborative but patient-oriented. The team takes into consideration patients’ social situations and has long discussions with them and their families.
“We have various treatment options that can be beneficial for certain patients,” Dr. Azadi says. “For example, we provide the transcatheter valve replacement procedure (TAVR), a less invasive way of replacing a heart valve versus a surgical valve. If a patient couldn’t manage open heart surgery because they’re taking care of a spouse who has advanced dementia or have other responsibilities, we have the option of doing the TAVR. That’s what separates us from other programs: our deep consideration for our patients’ needs.”
REHABILITATION AND RECOVERY
Halstead was very pleased with the care he received at the hospital. “I enjoyed my stay,” he says. “The nurses were really friendly and caring.”
His wife, Peggy, felt likewise. “Friends and family who came to visit Frank were so amazed with the hospital and the service Frank received,” she says.
But there were still hurdles. Because bypass surgery requires the surgeon to create an incision in the sternum or breastbone—a sternotomy—both bone and muscle must heal. The most difficult part of recovery for Halstead was having to cough, which was necessary so he could clear fluids from his lungs and prevent pneumonia.
“For a man like Mr. Halstead, who is used to being extremely active, lifting weights and moving his upper body constantly, it makes it even more difficult from a mental perspective,” says Dr. Azadi.
After a month or so of doing cardiac rehabilitation three times a week at Providence Little Company of Mary’s cardiac rehab center, Halstead felt like he could replace rehabilitation with his old routine. Eventually Dr. Azadi gave him permission to begin working out again, with some limitations. His speedy recovery impressed the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals so much, they nicknamed him Superman.
Today Halstead, 80, is back to weightlifting three times a week and working out with his heavy punching bag. He also practices karate kata, a form of fighting that resembles a dance. He and Peggy live in San Pedro and enjoy time with their four daughters, 17 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
“Before the surgery, I was starting to feel old,” he says, “but now, because of the new arteries in my heart, I feel even better, because my body’s getting more oxygen.”
For more information about cardiac health, contact 844-925-0942.
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