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Kaiser Permanente Members Share Stories of Survival for February's Heart Health Month

OAKLAND, Calif., Feb. 11, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Firefighter Chris Aragon never thought he would be the one rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. But during his annual participation in Colorado's seven-day bicycle tour Ride the Rockies, chest pain and profuse sweating told him something was wrong. 

Rather than trying to ignore the pain, Chris went immediately to the hospital. The decision saved his life. Under the care of Kaiser Permanente cardiologist Dr. Chris Lang , Chris' imminent heart attack was avoided.

Thanks to his time spent in the care of Kaiser Permanente medical doctors, both Chris' health and intense exercise regimen have been restored. "[I'm] still really active, and it's like it never happened," he said. 

Chris made the safe choice and it saved his life. During February's Heart Health month, Kaiser Permanente's Care Stories blog showcases the stories of patients who have dealt with ominous heart symptoms, and the doctors who saved their lives.

February's stories include:

The past decade has been a trying one for San Diego resident Susan Mahler . After being diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2000, Susan took the first three years of her diagnosis in stride under the watchful eyes of Kaiser Permanente's heart specialists. But in 2003, her health took a turn for the worse. "I couldn't breathe," Susan remembers. "Everything I did took such effort to just breathe." 

During a successful heart surgery in 2003, Kaiser Permanente's doctors discovered the left half of her heart had atrophied. One week later, Susan was informed that she qualified for the heart transplant donor list.

For the next six years, Susan felt great. In the care of her San Diego-based doctors, she was put on necessary medications and had her heart checked regularly. "I lived! I absolutely lived!" Susan recalls. "There wasn't anything I couldn't do."

But in the fall of 2009, her health turned a second time. The congestive heart failure that had ravaged the left side of Susan's heart in 2003 had moved to the right side. She spent the better part of a year in a Kaiser Permanente hospital, where the care was unending. But as her organs threatened to shut down, the prospects seemed bleak. 

Thanks to Kaiser Permanente, Susan got her life back on June 20, 2010. A call from Kaiser Permanente's Los Angeles Medical Center informed her that a match was found for her heart. By 11 p.m. that night, Susan was wheeled into surgery, where a team of Kaiser Permanente's surgeons performed the heart surgery that would let Mahler live to see many more years and tell the story of her care. 

Colorado resident Kathy Spencer , like many people, was aware of standard indicators of an oncoming heart attack like chest pain and palpitations. But she was about to learn that signs of heart attack can often differ in women.

One of these lesser-known symptoms caught Spencer off-guard. After experiencing intense jaw pain during her morning coffee, she called Kaiser Permanente's helpline. After a string of questions, the nurse insisted Kathy go to the hospital immediately; she might be having a heart attack. 

Kathy was skeptical of the nurse's diagnosis, but erred on the side of caution. At the hospital, Kaiser Permanente's doctors quickly put her through a series of tests. The results validated nurse's fear: the jaw pain was a sign of an oncoming heart attack.  

Dr. Julie Sutherland is very familiar with non-traditional signs of heart attack in women. "Women may come in with shortness of breath, they may come in with symptoms of jaw or arm pain, they may experience chest burning or something that's a little bit different than the usual... classic symptoms of heart disease like men might have," Dr. Sutherland explains. 

Ever-thankful for the nurse on the other end of Kaiser Permanente's helpline, Kathy spent the day in the hospital undergoing extensive testing. Under the watch of Dr. Sutherland, Kathy came to terms with her condition. "It was her confidence and her caring that really made me relax," Kathy recalls. "I'm ready just to go and enjoy life."

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 9 million members in nine states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to:

For more information, contact:
Farra Levin ,, 510-267 - 7364

SOURCE Kaiser Permanente
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