Sharp Rees-Stealy patient Peter Rubens, 58, experienced recurring heartburn for several weeks during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. But when it was accompanied by shortness of breath one evening, he knew he had to take action.
He decided to send his primary care doctor, Dr. Adam Pacal with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, a message using the online patient portal FollowMyHealth. Dr. Pacal, who had seen Peter for the first time several months earlier and had discussed the patient’s high cholesterol at that appointment, asked him to come into the clinic the next morning.
“Due to concern about possible cardiac issues, we asked him to come see us in person,” says Dr. Pacal.
While he was initially reluctant to keep the appointment because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Peter decided to get it checked out at the urging of his wife.
During the visit, the doctor suggested a couple of over-the-counter medications for Peter’s heartburn. As he was getting ready to leave, Dr. Pacal said, “Let’s do an EKG (electrocardiogram).”
This was a little surprising to Peter, as he had an EKG only a couple of months earlier. He considered himself to be in good shape — he has surfed his entire life — and never had heart issues.
The EKG looked different from the one performed months before. It showed coronary artery disease, specifically an issue with the left anterior descending (LAD) artery, which branches off the left coronary artery and supplies blood to the front of the left side of the heart.
After consulting with cardiology, Dr. Pacal directed Peter to the emergency room at Sharp Memorial Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a heart attack and had a stent inserted by Dr. Robert Kumar, a cardiologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy.
The procedure was a success. Peter has since fully recovered and returned to his normal activities — including surfing. He couldn’t have been more pleased with the entire process.
“My care was terrific all the way through from the office visit to the procedure at the hospital,” he says. “The FollowMyHealth app allowed me to contact Dr. Pacal and he had me in the office the next day and on the treadmill. Otherwise, I might have waited a couple of weeks, and who knows what would have happened.”
As for Dr. Pacal, there was a very important lesson learned from this episode.
“It is crucial that we continue to care for our patients and bring them into the clinic if dangerous symptoms develop, even while we are in a pandemic,” he says.
“We don’t want patients to be afraid to get medical care. We have done all we can to keep them safe in our facilities. This case also underscores the integration at Sharp Rees-Stealy between primary care, cardiology and the hospital, which allows us to provide outstanding, lifesaving care.”