The San Joaquin area can be very proud of its heart care. Renowned for their skill and state-of-the-art facilities, heart centers in the area have achieved numerous technical innovations and received countless awards.
But apart from the dazzling machinery and surgical bays, San Joaquin heart centers can also boast innovation in one too-often underplayed area of heart care: the overall patient experience. While technology and surgical procedure are always of the utmost importance, the human factor cannot be ignored. The person, as well as their heart, needs to be treated…and treated well.
Emergencies are one thing, but what do you do when you have a chronic heart condition that needs fixing? It is a very scary situation, stressful and confusing, creating a whirlwind of questions: What happens during the needed procedure? Who is the surgeon performing it? Do I have any other options? How do I explain this to my family? Etcetera, etcetera.
St. Joseph’s Medical Center has begun a program to address such questions and concerns: Cardiac Navigator. Joann Marks, St. Joseph’s Director of Cardiovascular Services, has been instrumental in helping to get the program off the ground.
As she explains it, “If anyone–the patient or a family member–has any questions or anxieties, they can call us, or even request a tour or one-on-one meeting.”
In other words, an existing or prospective heart patient can call to ask questions about their condition, their procedure, their doctor, the facilities and so forth. Patients are also able to voice their general concerns, fears and anxieties about their condition with Mended Heart volunteers. As heart survivors, they have gone through the same procedures–and emotional turmoil–so who better to understand and help walk you through it?
During an on-site tour, patients can see the heart care facilities, including the cath lab, ICU and cardiac rehab center, and meet the people who work there. And again, patients can talk face-to-face with people like Marks or one of the volunteers. Checking things out in person helps make patients and their families feel more comfortable and at home in the facilities when the time comes for their procedure.
Ultimately, the purpose of the Cardiac Navigator program is to give heart patients empowerment over their condition. And while it certainly won’t eliminate stress entirely, being informed will help to reduce it. (St. Joseph’s also has a similar program for cancer patients.)
Next to communication and familiarization with surroundings, the expectation of experience is also a great comfort. According to Alicia Stoop, a recent heart surgery patient, it was the experience of her surgeon, Dr. James Morrissey (the founder of Stockton Cardiothoracic Group), that initially attracted her to St. Joseph’s heart program.
Dedicated cardiac care in the San Joaquin area is so advanced and respected that you would never know it has been in the area less than 40 years. Before 1974, anyone with a serious heart condition was directed to Sacramento or the Bay Area for surgical procedures. After 1974, more heart patients could stay closer to home, and they have Dr. Morrissey to thank.
Despite some initial resistance in the beginning (“the San Joaquin area isn’t ready for it,” and so forth), Morrissey was invited to Stockton to start a heart care program. The rest, as they say, is history. Over the years, Dr. Morrissey has seen–and been a part of–massive technological achievements in the area of cardiac surgery, including minimally invasive and off-pump techniques. And when it comes to the personal touch, Dr. Morrissey is completely on board.
“These days, a lot of care is getting fragmented,” he says. “So I’m happy to talk to patients and answer their questions whenever I can.”
Such personalized experience is a constant before the procedure, during it (obviously) and after. While post-surgical patients tend to be tentative, understandably, it can slow down recovery time. St. Joseph’s Cardiac Rehab Center gives patients a safe place to exercise their newly fixed hearts. Staff members are all certified in cardiac physical therapy. They constantly monitor a patient’s pulse, heart rate and so forth, so problems don’t crop up unexpectedly. And they are backed up by physicians on rounds and the nearby ER.
Cardiac rehab also provides emotional support. As Marks has observed, it’s almost a familial atmosphere. Again, you’re often working alongside others who have gone through what you have and can provide support. And you’re working with professionals who genuinely care about your recovery.
When experience meets with compassion, and personal care meets technology, you have a truly winning heart care combination.
For more information about the Cardiac Navigator—or any heart health-related questions—contact the St. Joseph Medical Center Cath Lab at (209) 467-6540.
-Retired; Loves gardening and spending time with family
-Condition: Defective heart valve
-Procedure: Valve replacement, triple-bypass
Born with a defective heart valve, it was only a matter of time before Alicia Stoop was told the thing she feared the most: she needed open heart surgery. While she knew she had no choice in the matter, Stoop also knew she had options about where she could have the procedure done and who would tackle it.
Determined to fight her fears and take power over the situation, Stoop got references from her physician and did her research. She was leaning toward St. Joseph’s–close to her Manteca home, and with a great reputation–but wanted to know more. She spoke with Joann Marks in the Heart Center, who invited Stoop and her family to tour the facility. Then they met surgeon Dr. James Morrissey, and they were sold.
The surgery went off without a hitch, and within days Stoop was going through cardiac rehab at St. Joseph’s. She had her surgery a year ago the end of February, and by April she was back to gardening (carefully). Stoop can’t be more enthusiastic about her heart care experience, and credits the skills of Dr. Morrissey, the nurses and cardiac rehab specialists with her smooth path to a healthy heart.
-Flight medic, Rescue course instructor for the California State Fire Marshal
-Condition: Heart attack (with history of diabetes)
-Procedure: 5-bypass surgery
Over 30+ years as an EMT, firefighter and flight medic, David Caraveo has been responsible for saving many lives. Imagine his surprise when he found the tables turned, and it was his life that needed saving.
While doing yardwork one day, Caraveo got breathless and felt a crushing pain in his chest. His doctor later confirmed that he’d indeed had a heart attack. During a scheduled angioplasty, his condition was deemed so extreme that he was immediately referred to Dr. James Morrissey for open heart surgery. All in all, Dr. Morrissey had to clear five blockages.
The only reason Caraveo had survived was because two of the major arteries actually branched around blockages to keep blood flowing. Just as spectacular was Caraveo’s recovery. The entire ordeal took place at the end of January/beginning of February. By May, Caraveo got his doctor’s okay to teach a swift water rescue class. And by June, he was cleared to get back on a helicopter. After all he’d been through, Caraveo had only two percent damage to his heart.
That was more than five years ago. Today, Caraveo feels better than ever, often outpacing his younger cohorts.
By Nissa Hallquist, Photos By Matty Fran