Dale Stickney was healthy, or so he thought. He worked out vigorously in the gym every day, ate a healthy diet, drank enough water, and got plenty of sleep.
There was just one problem: fatigue. “I didn’t have the energy I once had to do everything I wanted to do,” says the now 49-year-old tech entrepreneur.
A checkup with his Kaiser Permanente doctor detected a whooshing noise between Dale’s heartbeats, instead of the steady thrum of a healthy heart. Further tests allowed his care team to diagnose a leaky mitral valve — one of four valves that control blood flow to and from the heart.
Dale would need a surgery called “minimally invasive mitral valve repair” to treat “regurgitation,” a serious condition in which the valve’s flaps don’t close tightly, allowing blood to leak backward into the left atrium.
Over time, a poorly functioning mitral valve can lead to diminished quality of life, heart failure, and eventually, death, according to Thomas Lampros, MD, a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon.
“We often see otherwise healthy people who have no medical history of heart disease,” Dr. Lampros said. “It’s hard to know why some people’s mitral valves need replacing or repairing. It’s a common, fixable problem.”
Dr. Lampros, along with William Shely, MD, and Yong Shin, MD, perform mitral valve surgeries and other life-saving cardiac procedures at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Heart and Vascular Care in Clackamas, Oregon.
Their work — and the work of their team located at Kaiser Permanente’s Mt. Talbert Medical Office and Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center — was awarded a 3-star rating for mitral valve repair and replacement by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. Kaiser Sunnyside is the only rated participating hospital in the Northwest to receive the highest rating.
Kaiser Sunnyside is also the only Northwest site to earn three stars (the highest) for two other heart surgeries — and has done so consistently for the past nine years:
Accolades such as these affirm the high-quality care that Kaiser Permanente members receive. However, the most gratifying reward is when doctors and nurses witness the results of their work: When the marathon runner with a repaired mitral valve can pound the pavement again. Or when a 74-year-old woman can jog a couple miles without running out of breath.
Or, in Dale’s case, when he was once again able to “burn up” the StairMaster at his gym, and also have the energy to launch a new business and thrive with the most important thing in his life — his son, Connor, age 11.
“Those are the real rewards,” said Dr. Lampros. “That’s why we became doctors.”
Dr. Lampros attributes the Center for Heart and Vascular Care’s quality outcomes to, first and foremost, a team approach.
“As in sports, every member needs to turn in a consistent, strong performance, from top to bottom,” he said. “Those layers of knowledge and skills enable us to ‘win’ on behalf of our patients and their families.”
Twice daily, the entire team checks on cardiac patients at Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center. That means surgeons, anesthesiologists, hospitalists, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, physical therapists, care managers, dieticians, social workers, and anyone else involved with the patient’s care come together to make sure the patient receives the very best care available.
“It’s gratifying to know that all the extra things we do pay off in more years and better quality of life for our patients,” said Dr. Lampros. “If needed, this is where I would want my friends and family to receive care. It’s simply the best.”
His patient, Dale, agreed. “I’ve had a wonderful experience with Kaiser Permanente. They went out of their way to make me and my family feel comfortable.”
He was particularly touched when his son, who was eight-years-old at the time and understandably nervous, asked if his dad could take Smith, the boy’s favorite Lego character, into the operating room with him.
“They put Smith in a sterile package and attached it to my IV pole,” said Dale. “I carry Smith in my laptop bag to this day as I travel throughout the country on business. It’s a constant reminder of my son, why I am committed to continued good health, and the awesome care I received at Kaiser Permanente.”
Learn more about cardiac care at Kaiser Permanente at kp.org/cardiac/northwest.