July 31, 2019

A heart saved

When Rong Fang had a life-threatening heart attack, Kaiser Permanente’s integrated system ensured seamless care. Specialists at 2 hospitals partnered to return the 54-year-old to health.

Rong Fang and cardiologist Matthew Solomon, MD.

At age 54, with no history of heart disease, Rong Fang had never experienced chest pain before. So when the pain began, along with dizziness and labored breathing, he knew something was wrong.

Originally from China and a Kaiser Permanente member for 19 years, Fang is a custodian at the University of California, Berkeley. He went to see his primary care physician, Albert Yu, MD, at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center. After hearing Fang’s symptoms, Dr. Yu sent him to the emergency department immediately.

With Fang’s status worsening, emergency medicine physician Siavash Sarlati, MD, quickly consulted cardiologist Matthew Solomon, MD, PhD.

“I heard a loud murmur with my stethoscope, and I knew something was seriously wrong, possibly a ruptured heart valve, which is a rare but deadly complication of a heart attack,” recalled Dr. Solomon.

He performed a bedside ultrasound that confirmed Fang had a leaky mitral valve. Blood does not move through the heart or body efficiently in such cases, which can quickly lead to heart failure.

“I knew we had to act fast,” Dr. Solomon said.

Working together to save a life

Dr. Solomon quickly called his colleague, Ahmad Sheikh, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the San Francisco Medical Center, where one of Kaiser Permanente’s 3 Northern California centers for cardiac surgery is housed. Together, they decided to transfer Fang there for urgent open-heart surgery to repair the damaged valve.

"We put the patient at the center of everything we do and work together seamlessly to return them to healthy, active lives."

“I was alone and so nervous. My wife and daughter were in China,” Fang recalled. “But Dr. Solomon and the team talked me through the surgery, and the nurses were so supportive. I felt cared for and began to feel calm.”

“Kaiser Permanente has distinguished itself by improving outcomes through centralizing such complex, high-acuity cases,” Dr. Sheikh said. “I saw Mr. Fang and we got him into surgery a few hours later. The successful surgery was about four hours. He recovered well and returned home in a matter of days.”

Now back at work, Fang is enjoying life — particularly walks on the beach near his home in Alameda. He continues to see Dr. Solomon regularly to review medications, any post-operative questions, diet, and lifestyle.

“These are the types of experiences that make you proud to work in an integrated care delivery system,” said Dr. Solomon. “We put the patient at the center of everything we do and work together seamlessly to return them to healthy, active lives.”