A Doctor Becomes the Patient - Hyden physician sees team approach to heart care by ARH and UK HealthCare


For more than three decades, Dr. Roy Varghese has provided primary care services for residents of Eastern Kentucky. Always in relatively good health himself, it was a bit of a surprise when the physician suddenly became a patient, and nearly lost his life to a heart attack.

After a full day of treating patients in his busy office at Mary Breckinridge ARH Hospital in Hyden, Ky., followed by rounding on patients at the Hazard ARH Regional Medical Center, Dr. Varghese headed home for dinner with his family. He had been experiencing very minimal symptoms of abdominal discomfort—much like indigestion—throughout the day. When the pain persisted through dinner, Dr. Varghese told his wife it was time to go to the hospital.

Little did he know at the time how critical that timely decision was in saving his life.

Emergency department physicians at the Mary Breckinridge ARH Hospital quickly assessed Dr. Varghese and an EKG revealed he was experiencing an acute inferior myocardial infarction (AMI) or heart attack which occurs when blood flow stops to part of the heart causing damage to the heart muscle.

The most common symptom of an AMI is chest pain or discomfort which may travel into the shoulder, arm, back, neck or jaw. Often it is in the center or left side of the chest and lasts for more than a few minutes. Occasionally it may simply feel like heartburn. Shortness of breath, nausea, feeling faint, a cold sweat, or feeling tired may also occur.

According to Dr. Varghese, about 30 percent of people experiencing an AMI have atypical symptoms like his, but always, time is of the essence in seeking medical attention, as an AMI may cause heart failure, an irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrest.

After arriving at the hospital, Dr. Varghese’ condition quickly worsened and he developed tachycardia, a very rapid and dangerous heart rate, which required an electric shock to restore normal heart rhythm. Doctors at Mary Breckinridge ARH administered life-saving, stabilizing therapies to begin treating the heart attack and quickly transferred Dr. Varghese to the Hazard ARH Regional Medical Center for more advanced cardiac care.

Dr. Varghese had lost consciousness when he reached Hazard. His colleagues, ARH cardiologists Dr. Vidya Yalamanchi and Dr. Syed Bokhari worked together to perform diagnostic heart catheterization and a life-saving coronary angioplasty to reopen blocked coronary arteries and restore blood flow to the heart.

“Heart disease occurs when coronary arteries become narrow in places due to the buildup of cholesterol-laden plaques,” said Dr. Bokhari. “During angioplasty, we use X-ray imaging to guide a catheter to the blocked artery. At the blockage a balloon is inflated to open the artery, restoring blood flow. A stent is often placed at the site of the blockage to help keep the vessels open.”

Dr. Bokhari successfully performed the angioplasty on Dr. Varghese at Hazard ARH, placing four stents in the right coronary artery. However, the heart attack had caused extensive damage and, as a result, Dr. Varghese was in cardiac shock.

Unconscious and on a ventilator, Dr. Varghese was flown to UK Medical Center in Lexington for the most advanced cardiac care. While every phase of his care was critical to saving his life, Dr. Varghese experienced significant complications that would result in a very long recovery.

“Initially when arriving at UK Medical Center, I was in very bad shape,” said Dr. Varghese. “Cardiac shock causes low blood pressure, low oxygen levels and a fluid overload that can lead to heart failure.”

Dr. Varghese remained unconscious for a week at UK Medical Center as cardiologists, Dr. David Booth and Dr. Alison Bailey, worked to regulate his blood pressure and oxygen levels. While he credits in large part the seamless continuity of care between ARH and UK Healthcare, along with the skilled cardiologists for saving his life, he also doesn’t discount the influence of a power even greater than medicine.

“At one point, it seemed that there may be nothing more the UK doctors could do to save me,” recalls Dr. Varghese. “But my family and friends in Eastern Kentucky, and across the world in India, joined together in 24 hours of continuous prayer, and the next day I regained consciousness.”

Less than a week later, Dr. Varghese was discharged from UK Medical Center and transferred to a cardiac rehabilitation center in Cincinnati where he spent a month continuing his recovery before returning to home and work in Hyden.

Today, Dr. Varghese who continues his cardiac rehabilitation by walking 3 miles daily, is all the more passionate about his life-long interest to research and better understand the causes of heart disease, and more importantly how to prevent it.

“Heart disease begins at a very early age and often takes 20-30 years to develop into a problem,” said Dr. Varghese, who was diagnosed with very high cholesterol while still in medical school. “Heredity, lifestyle, diet, and smoking all play a role, but by age 40 the vast majority of adults have some degree of heart disease.”

“I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for us to learn so much more about the disease process and to educate the public about prevention,” he said. “And certainly it is vitally important that anyone experiencing unusual symptoms seek medical attention immediately.”

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