First published in the May 21 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
This past March 30, Pacoima resident Hamlet Tunyan was riding in a car driven by his wife, and he told her he wasn’t feeling well. He had a burning sensation in his chest and they decided to go to the emergency room at Adventist Health Glendale. However, before they arrived, Tunyan passed out.
Once at the hospital, his wife, Emma, told doctors that her husband had a seizure in the past and she thought he may have suffered another one. However, after running tests, it was determined that he had suffered a heart attack.
His story was one of several told by patients and doctors from Adventist Health Glendale during an event on May 12. The first-ever “Advancing Healthcare Symposium,” sponsored by the hospital and the Glendale Adventist Health Foundation, covered several areas of medicine such as cardiology and emergency services mixed with a humorous and moving speech by actor/comedian Kevin Smith, who, himself was treated at the hospital in 2018 for a heart attack.
Tunyan and his physician, Dr. Harry Balian, took part in one of four break-out sessions during the event. Balian said that if it had taken a few more hours before Tunyan had gotten help, it could have been a tragic ending.
The symposium opened with keynote speech by Kerry L. Heinrich, president and CEO of Adventist Health, who acknowledged Adventist Health Glendale is the organization’s flagship.
Heinrich, who is an attorney, took a moment to make fun of himself as he showed a picture on a screen of him with hospital staff. He and his wife moved from the Pacific Northwest for his wife’s career. They made the move because his wife, a dentist, was going to enroll in dental school. His son is in residency as a physician and his daughter is in nursing school.
“And they say, ‘So, Dad, you’re the only one in the family who is not clinical, you’re a lawyer… And you’re a CEO [of a hospital]… what do you actually do?’ There are days when I wonder about that,” he said jokingly.
Then, he continued, “I get to work with amazing physicians, remarkable nurses, who put their heart and soul into helping people.”
Balian said, during his time as a cardiologist, procedures have changed dramatically, meaning heart procedures can be done much more non-invasively, and no longer require open-heart surgery.
He also reflected on his uncle who passed away at 44 years old from a heart attack. He might have been saved using today’s procedures.
In Tunyan’s case, first responders found him and he didn’t have a pulse. They gave him CPR and took him to Adventist Health Glendale. Initially, they wanted to make sure he didn’t have a bleed in his head, which can happen during a seizure.
His condition was so serious, he was in a coma for three or four days.
To make sure his neuroglial functions were all right, they dropped his core body temperature to 33 degrees for 24 hours to measure his neuroglial function. Afterward, he was able to do basic body functions.
It was found he had a blocked artery in his heart. The blockage was removed and a long stent was put in. He recovered in about a week and was released.
During the break-out session, Balian said to Tunyan that he seemed to be doing much better. “As you’re talking, I’m getting goosebumps because your words are actually very, very profound,” he said to Tunyan.
“It’s not just words,” Tunyan responded, adding that it’s also “the feeling” of appreciation he has for the people who saved his life.
In another break-out session covering emergency services, Dr. Cheryl Lee Chang spoke about a patient who was initially thought to be having a stroke, having back pain and unable move his legs. Chang looked at his condition and realized that if it involved the brain either the left or right side of his body would be impacted. However, he couldn’t move either of his legs.
After a CT-scan, she determined that it was his heart. He was suffering an aortic dissection, which is where a tear occurs in the inner layer of the body’s main artery, or aorta. Blood rushes through the tear, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to split.
Because blood and oxygen were not going to his legs, he couldn’t move them, Chang said.
“It’s like a plumbing problem,” she said. Putting a “sleeve” inside the aorta blocks the tears, she added.
“Sounds simple, [but] it take a little bit of finesse to do that in a live patient,” she said.
In the afternoon, Alice Issai, president of Adventist Health Glendale, said she is often teased because she brags about the high rankings the hospital has received, including an “A” grade recently from the Leapfrog Group, an independent national watchdog organization that grades hospitals on measurements such as errors, accidents, injuries and infections as well as systems hospitals have in place to prevent harm.
It’s the 15th consecutive year the hospital has received an “A” grade.
“We’re quickly becoming a destination medical center because of [our] caliber of programs, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and therapists,” she said.
Smith closed the symposium, telling how he wound up at Adventist Health Glendale in early 2018 when he was filming two stand-up comedy performances at the Alex Theatre in Glendale.
After his first performance, he was spending time offstage and became nauseous. He then felt very sweaty and cold. Someone with him felt his neck and concurred he was “freezing.”
He initially thought he might have had some bad milk, because he drank a lot of milk after the first performance.
He also noticed that his breathing was getting shallow.
Smith said he wanted to lie down. They found a couch in the theater where he could relax. However, he felt he a lot of mucous in his chest, but no pain.
He began self-diagnosing and thought the mucous could be because of marijuana he had consumed. “I had smoked a lot of weed before I came in to do this show,” he said.
He then moved to a chair and raised his arms over his head.
A person who was with him called an ambulance, which Smith said he did not want. When the paramedics arrived, they asked him how he felt. He said he didn’t feel bad, again, no chest pain, but he couldn’t catch his breath.
Smith said he could tell the paramedics were communicating with their eyes. Smith said one of them said, “Would you mind terribly if we took you to the hospital?”
Smith declined, saying he was OK and didn’t need to go to the hospital.
Smith recalls that the paramedic said, “Mr. Smith, I’m sure you’re right; in fact, I know you’re right. But it would be so good for me and my job if I brought you tonight to the hospital.”
“I’m a sucker for a fan,” Smith said.
Once at the hospital, tests were run. A doctor sat down with Smith and asked what his pain level was on a scale of 1 to 10.
“Negative three,” Smith replied.
“Oh, well, you’re doing this all wrong. You should be in a lot of pain when you’re having a heart attack,” Smith said the doctor told him.
“Wait, I’m having a heart attack?” Smith said, surprised.
“Oh, yeah, a massive one, right now,” the doctor said, according to Smith.
Things moved very quickly after that.
A male nurse came in with a razor. Smith questioned what was going on. The nurse explained that he had to shave Smith’s groin because that’s the way the surgeon would reach his heart.
Smith initially refused to take off his underwear because he felt it would be too embarrassing, he admitted. Eventually, he acquiesced. However, he did not take off his hockey jersey, Smith’s signature piece of attire.
When the doctor come in to do the procedure, he asked why Smith still had on the jersey. Before Smith could answer, the doctor immediately took off the jersey himself.
The procedure was a success. However, it was just the beginning in turning a new chapter in his life. Smith’s daughter was very upset about the incident and said her father should change his eating habits, including becoming a vegan. “I told her I would try it for two months,” he said, adding he’s now been vegan for four years and has lost a lot of weight.
He also said it’s important, after a life-changing event, to share your story with others, including on social media.
“No information like that is useful in a vacuum,” he said, adding he’s shared his story many times during the past four years. “I was streaming from Glendale Adventist that night after they saved my life.”