“I got the best” – Rick Smith’s story on how a primary care visit helped save his heart

Rick and Sarah Smith blog

Sarah Smith, a data analyst at Hennepin Healthcare, invited her dad Rick to her new apartment to enjoy some pizza, red wine, and a walk around the lake with Sarah’s bulldog, Hazel Minerva. They made it a quarter mile before Rick got short of breath and had to stop.

Sarah saw the warning signs. She had just persuaded her dad to switch his health care provider to Hennepin Healthcare, and she now believes that choice saved his life.

Rick was active, a couple years post-retirement from his job as a security guard, had played hockey and golf his whole life, and thought he was healthy except for some acid reflux and shortness of breath. A visit to the Whittier Clinic to see his new Hennepin Healthcare primary care doctor, David Councilman, MD, soon showed he needed help—and fast.

Sarah had been encouraging Rick to switch to Hennepin Healthcare, telling him it’s a great facility, they catered to people like him, and he could get all of his healthcare needs met in one location instead of driving across the Twin Cities.

From a primary care visit to stress test to surgery

Rick switched and had his first couple visits with Dr. Councilman, who put him at ease.

“He takes his time. He’s not in a rush,” Rick says. “He listens to me. He’s proactive in my health. He looks at my chart, he knows what’s going on. It makes you feel good.”

Rick mentioned the reflux and then felt comfortable enough to mention the shortness of breath in the follow-up visit the doctor suggested. Dr. Councilman noticed the signs—both of these symptoms can be a sign of heart trouble—and ordered a cardio stress test.

“Of course I failed the stress test,” said Rick. An angiogram showed that two of Rick’s arteries were 90% blocked, and he would need surgery as soon as possible. Rick’s Cardiothoracic Surgeon Andrew Shaffer, MD, MS, discovered Rick had a ramus intermedius artery—found in only 20-40% of the population—that would help him successfully complete sextuple bypass surgery.

Sarah says, “I truly believe he would have suffered a heart attack if not for the quick- acting providers and great care we provide here. It moved so quickly and effortlessly from the stress test to surgery day.”

A place where you see miracles and heartbreak

Rick Smith blog

Rick recovering in the hospital

Rick woke up from his November surgery disoriented and in pain, but the recovery went quickly and his care team was “just incredible.” He calls his nurse, Tim Hoppenrath, a magician—multi-tasking and caring for others but still connected to Rick’s needs. Sarah says the nurse team—including Brooke Weise and Emily Brant— helped her feel like she could take breaks to go home and take care of herself and Hazel Minerva. Sarah’s mother, Barb Smith, also works in General Medicine at Hennepin Healthcare and supported both of them through Rick’s recovery.

Rick and Sarah Smith First Outing 5 Weeks Post Op Ordway With Father

Rick and Sarah five weeks post -surgery

“I saw a lot on that floor during the week my father was there—how hard these nurses work and not only them but the nurse assistants, radiology techs, lab, custodial as well,” said Sarah. “It is a place where you see miracles and you see heartbreak.”

Rick and Sarah Smith 3 Month Post Op Back On The Ice For The First Time

Three months after surgery, Rick and Sarah were back on the ice.

Four months after surgery, Rick and Sarah were skating together again. “He is much faster now!” she says. Rick is getting his cardiac rehab at Hennepin Healthcare and his future plans include travel—first a trip to Canada—and lots of Mall of America walks.

Sarah says, “I cannot say enough good things about the care he received and continues to. When we say we are ‘Here for life,’ we are community driven. It isn’t just patients—it is also our coworkers and team members.”

“The nurses, the doctors, the social workers, on and on – all of the people that were involved in my case, I can’t thank them enough, “Rick says. “I’m here today because of those people. I hate to say it but in some instances, you just don’t get the right care. There are places in this world where the care is not that good and you don’t get the right doctor. But in this case, I got the best.”

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