Right Time, Right Place

Man's Life Saved in Doctor's Waiting Room

The morning began ordinarily enough for then 65-year-old retired school psychologist Stephen Rinkenberger of Homewood, who was scheduled to see his cardiologist that day.

Physically fit and active himself, Stephen knew his family had a history of heart problems though he'd never really had any of his own.

He had, however, experienced a couple uncomfortable episodes in recent months that, within about a minute, left him feeling extremely weak and lightheaded. Both were associated with physical exertion. An angiogram earlier in the year revealed no artery blockages, but doctors were keeping a watchful eye on his aortic valve.

As he walked from the parking garage at Ingalls Memorial Hospital to the office of P. Sandy Sundram, M.D., in the hospital's Professional Office Building, Stephen started to feel strange.

"Something didn't feel right," he remembers. "It was an all-too-familiar feeling."

When he and his wife Pat finally made it into the crowded waiting room, there was one vacant chair, which Stephen knew he needed to sit in right away.

That's the last thing he remembers.

When he came to minutes later, Stephen was surrounded by more than a dozen medical professionals, including Dr. Sundram, who were administering life-saving care. "There had to be a minimum of 20 people responding to that event," he explains.

Within minutes, the husband and father of two grown sons was placed on a gurney and whisked to the hospital's emergency room where he was stabilized before being moved to the critical care unit. A defective aortic valve was confirmed.

Four days later, cardiovascular/thoracic surgeon Bryan Lee, M.D., performed an open-heart aortic valve replacement. Two days after that, electrophysiologist Andy Lin, M.D., implanted a pacemaker to regulate Stephen's heart rhythm, and by Dec. 15, the thankful retiree was recovering in the comfort of his own home.

Stephen completed cardiac rehabilitation at Ingalls last April, and last summer resumed one of his treasured activities, international travel with his wife.

In letters to Dr. Sundram and Dr. Lee, he poignantly expressed his profound gratitude.

"A simple ‘thank you' seems so inadequate, considering the magnitude of what you restored for me and our family," he wrote to Dr. Sundram. "I'm grateful to God for allowing that episode to occur where it did—at the hands of highly competent people who could be trusted."

Stephen added in his letter: "I feel that my life was saved for more days of adventure, learning, service, shared laughter and hugs, and hopefully a bit of mischief along the way—the things that make life full, rich and worthwhile."

For more information or a referral to a gastroenterologist, call Ingalls Care Connection at 708.915.CARE (2273).

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