Vincent Unpingco has lived with a laundry list of health issues, particularly with his blood vessels and heart, for a good part of his life. The 70-year-old grandfather of four and retired military systems engineer recalls his cardiovascular issues starting in his late 20s, after being drafted by the Army during the Vietnam War.
"My health problems are systemic from being in the military," says Unpingco. "It started with heart problems due to stress and sleepless nights. I had high blood pressure for my age at the time, and my health problems just built up over time," despite a healthy lifestyle that included routine early morning runs.
After his time in the military, Unpingco spent more than 40 years working for various government departments. Then in 2000, while living in Northern California, Unpingco found himself short of breath while at work, and his heart was pounding heavily.
His doctor conducted a cardiac stress test and discovered Unpingco had clogged arteries, which prevented his heart from getting enough oxygen. He was rushed to the operating room where surgeons performed quadruple bypass surgery.
Unpingco recovered from surgery and resumed life, which included moving to San Diego in 2016 to be closer to his mother. Spending days caring for his aging mother, as well as enjoying retirement and his grandkids, the heart problems returned.
He had not felt well, was tired, flushed and his blood pressure was rising. His doctors discovered that he needed stents to once again open up clogged heart arteries. This time he was admitted to Sharp Grossmont Hospital where he underwent surgery to have stents placed in the blood vessels of his heart to restore blood flow.
Thinking his health problems were behind him, Unpingco had another setback just months after his heart surgery.
"I was at my house doing yardwork when my left side went limp," he says.
He went to the emergency room and doctors admitted him to the hospital. They found that one of his carotid arteries — the arteries that run along the neck supplying blood from the heart to the head, brain and face — was 95 percent blocked, leading to an acute stroke.
Dr. Scott Musicant, a vascular surgeon affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, performed transcarotid artery revascularization (TCAR). TCAR is an innovative procedure designed to remove plaque buildup in the carotid arteries while also reducing the risk of that plaque breaking off during surgery, which could lead to another stroke during surgery.
"Mr. Unpingco's medical history placed him at a very high risk for open surgery for his severe carotid artery plaque," says Dr. Musicant. "That, in combination with having favorable anatomy, made him an excellent candidate for TCAR, which he tolerated very well and had a very good recovery."
The surgery involved not only clearing his artery, but also implanting stents to keep the artery open and restore blood flow to his brain.
"Being cared for at Sharp Grossmont Hospital was the right decision," says Unpingco. "It just seemed like a fit with the staff there, from the surgical staff to the inpatient cardiovascular monitoring unit to cardiovascular rehab, everyone was terrific. Along with the facility, it was the people, too, that made for a positive experience."
Unpingco still occasionally has symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain. However, he continues to see his doctors to manage them.
"I wouldn't change anything in my life," he says. "I was very fit at an early age, I tried to exercise a lot. I just wish I didn't have these medical issues along the way, but I press on."
Learn about cardiovascular services at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.