It’s Your Heart

It’s Your Heart

By Chris Valentine, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services

As she was working in the yard, Linda tried to ignore the dull ache in her shoulders and back. “I must have done something too strenuous,” she said to herself. She thought a hot shower would help, but the discomfort continued.

“I’ve heard that heart attacks in women can feel different than what you see on TV, so I decided to call 911,” says Linda. That call most likely saved her life.

“When I got to the hospital, they ran a few tests. That’s when the cardiologist told me that I was having a massive heart attack,” says Linda. She was rushed to the cardiac catheterization lab where the blockages in her heart were opened.

While that stopped the heart attack, her doctor told her that she would need open heart surgery. “When I met my surgeon, Dr. John Mehall, I didn’t know what to ask so I just asked him how many of these surgeries he had done,” explains Linda. “He said ‘thousands’ so I felt like I was in good hands.”

Linda ended up at Penrose Hospital simply because it was the closest hospital to her home when she had her heart attack. She had no idea she was at one of the top heart surgery programs in the nation. Penrose Cardiothoracic Surgery is ranked as a Top 50 Program for Bypass Surgery by Consumer Reports.

“Consumers are more informed now than ever before,” says Dr. Mehall. “Prior to now, patients chose doctors based on reputation, not based on evidence, which is not always perfect.”

What defines the program and sets it apart is the skill and experience of the doctors. At Penrose, each case is approached with an individualized plan, and the surgical and technological tools that will create the best outcome. Extra time is always given to explain the options and proposed plan to the patient and family. Dedicated exclusively to caring for cardiothoracic patients, each team member undergoes specialized training, enabling them to identify warning signs and symptoms that may occur during or after surgery.

Penrose-St. Francis is the only hospital system in southern Colorado to use da Vinci surgical robots. Robotic assisted surgery helps doctors perform complex surgeries and enhances surgical capabilities. With minimally invasive surgery, patients no longer have to suffer the inconvenience and discomfort of traditional surgery.

Some of the other benefits of minimally invasive surgery include less pain and a lower need for blood transfusions. There’s a worldwide concern about the efficacy, cost and availability of donor blood.

Penrose Cardiothoracic Surgery is a leader in blood conservation. Meticulous attention to all aspects of blood conservation enables our doctors to offer cardiac surgery with transfusion rates below the national average. In fact, both Dr. Beggs and Dr. Mehall have experience performing cardiac surgery on Jehovah’s Witnesses.

“It’s a global approach to cutting down the volume of blood transfusions,” describes Dr. Mehall.

According to Dr. Mehall, one quarter of all blood utilized in the United States goes to patients having heart surgery. Research shows that patients who need a blood transfusion around surgery are more likely to have complications and possible die.

“A blood transfusion is, in a way, a quality indicator. If you’re using less, you’re doing a better job. It’s a reflection of overall management of a patient,” says Mehall.

Outcomes are tracked through participation in The Society of Thoracic Surgeons National Databases for both cardiac and thoracic surgery. Penrose is the only program in southern Colorado that publicly reports results online (

So how is Linda doing today? One year after her heart attack, she is exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. The one message she wants to get across is directed at women. “A heart attack in women doesn’t always have that crushing chest pain that you see people on TV having. If you have any doubt, get it checked out,” says Linda.

To hear more of Linda’s story or to learn more about the Penrose Cardiothoracic Surgery program, go to