Healing a giving heart
Ruben Rodriguez, 58, has a generous and giving heart. As an associate pastor at
Stonewall Community Church outside the little community of Lafe in Greene County,
Ark., he and his wife Martha help with the church's outreach activities, take and
teach classes through Integrity Bible College and share their faith through music
and ministry. But on July 14, Ruben's giving heart started giving out.
It started as a pressure in Ruben's chest while he was working at his day job at
Emerson Electric Co. in Paragould, but eased off after he took one of the nitroglycerin
tablets he'd been keeping with him since his first heart attack 12 years earlier.
He'd already had three stents put in the arteries leading to his heart at two different
times, but in the last decade he'd been feeling pretty good, so good he hadn't bothered
with the cholesterol medication he was supposed to be taking.
That evening Ruben met Martha at the house and they discussed going into Paragould
for pizza, but he confessed that he was having some discomfort in his chest. Ruben
tried to reassure Martha that it didn't hurt much and it was probably indigestion.
The two headed for Paragould, but instead of getting pizza they went straight to
the emergency room at Arkansas Methodist Medical Center. "We don't fool with that,"
was Martha's steadfast response.
Doctors quickly confirmed that Ruben was having pain associated with a lack of blood
to his heart and sent the two to St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, about
25 miles away. Through an agreement between the two hospitals, heart patients at
Arkansas Methodist Medical Center often are referred to St. Bernards for their excellent
care. That high quality is one reason St. Bernards has been named a
Blue Distinction Center of Excellence for Cardiac Care by the Blue Cross
and Blue Shield Association.
Blue Distinction Centers of Excellence must meet high quality standards established
by an expert panel of physicians, surgeons and other health-care professionals.
When a hospital has been designated a Blue Distinction Center, you know they have
expertise in that specialty, that they focus on quality and that they have a history
of patients with positive outcomes. Hospitals provide care differently, and Blue
Cross has created a process where hospitals can demonstrate their expertise.
If you are looking for a hospital with a Blue Distinction designation, go to our
websites and visit our "Member" section. We do the work for you, so you can be
assured you are receiving the best care possible.
In the St. Bernards emergency room, Ruben was fussing more about his missed pizza
than his heart pain, but the results from the tests brought some somber news; blockage
in Ruben's heart arteries had caused a small heart attack. He needed a triple bypass.
Had the nitroglycerin tablet that afternoon helped? "It wasn't any good," he said
laughing, thinking about that 10-year-old pill. He later learned that nitroglycerin
tablets are only good for about six months.
Ruben requested Richard Stevenson, M.D., medical director of the cardiovascular
program at St. Bernards to do the surgery. For Dr. Stevenson, the request was an
honor; he had performed a successful heart surgery on Ruben's father, Eusebio "E.S."
Rodriguez, years earlier.
"That is the highest compliment I could have received," Dr. Stevenson said of Ruben's
request. He added that Ruben was much like his father in that he was determined
to get well and was willing to take the steps needed to get there. And both men
enjoyed the opportunity to speak Spanish with Dr. Stevenson who is conversational
in the language but always looking for opportunities to brush up his skills.
Dr. Stevenson said it also helped that Ruben was in a cardiac program that has gone
to great lengths to be comparable with some of the top cardiac programs in the nation.
"If you are in our hospital, we want to provide the same environment and offer the
same technology you would see at Mount Sinai in New York or Vanderbilt Medical Center
in Nashville," he said. "We strive to offer care commensurate with any top cardiac
Dr. Stevenson said that the excellent care at St. Bernards begins even before patients
get to the operating room. This care then continues through the operating staff
to the ICU staff and on to the progressive care staff. In the progressive care unit
the patient-to-nurse ratio is four to one. And before a patient leaves, each one
is referred to outpatient rehabilitation to continue recovery. "It's a compendium
of care across a continuum of care," he explained.
Dr. Stevenson said the cardiac care physicians and hospital leaders have collaborated
on training the nurses in cardiac care. "I'm extremely proud of our heart care nurses,"
he said. "We told them, 'We will train you to take care of any complication and
manage it until a doctor can get there.'" The nurses are empowered to take actions
they know will help their patients. "'No Fear' is our motto."
Dr. Stevenson has a special tie with St. Bernards — he was born there, back
when many of the nurses were Catholic nuns. He left Jonesboro to pursue his medical
career and ended up at Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport,
La., but found himself wanting to return to his family and his roots, and to provide
care that could make a difference in Northeast Arkansas.
What Dr. Stevenson recognized when he returned home was that the young people had
moved from the farming towns, but that the elderly who were left had to drive long
distances to get the care they needed. "It's tough for an elderly couple to drive
into Jonesboro, sit in a waiting room, go through tests and visit with me and then
drive back home," he said. "I decided I could go to them."
Dr. Stevenson doesn't make house calls, but he created an outreach program that
goes to smaller towns across Northeast Arkansas in order to serve his elderly patients.
He travels to Paragould, Pocahontas and Walnut Ridge. Dr. Jack Havdala goes to Wynne
and Dr. Ron Smith goes to Blytheville and Newport. He said they don't compete with
the local hospitals because he recognizes that "health care is provided best when
it can be provided locally, as long as it is provided well. It matters if a patient
can see his family. It matters if they know your name."
The high level of care Dr. Stevenson described is exactly what qualifies St. Bernards
as a Blue Distinction Center of Excellence. Each Blue Distinction Center for Cardiac
Care must meet stringent clinical criteria recommended by expert physicians and
medical organizations, including the American College of Cardiology and the Society
of Thoracic Surgeons. Blue Distinction Centers for Cardiac Care provide a full range
of cardiac care services, including inpatient cardiac care, cardiac rehabilitation,
cardiac catheterization and cardiac surgery (including coronary artery bypass graft
surgery), and each center is re-evaluated regularly.
The cardiac program at St. Bernards seeks to be the tertiary care center for the
area, only taking cases when needed. Dr. Stevenson said that when it comes to working
with the other hospitals, the heart surgeons try to be available. Most of all, Dr.
Stevenson said, he is grateful to St. Bernards for allowing the physicians to look
beyond the scope of what an average hospital does to truly make it a center of excellence.
That excellence is what brought Ruben Rodriguez to Dr. Stevenson in July, trusting
in his skills, St. Bernards and, as always, God.
Asked if he was concerned at all about the procedure, Ruben thought back to the
moment the hugs and kisses from family ended and he was being rolled into the operating
room. In that quiet moment, he said, he reached out to God and heard, "Fear not,
for I am with you," and he was at peace. At the same time, Martha said she had also
put her faith in God. A gospel song, "I've Been Through Enough to Know that He'll
be Enough for Me," ran through her mind as Ruben was wheeled away.
Ruben's surgery was successful, and within hours he was up and walking. He said
the breathing treatments were painful, but he knew the more he did them the easier
it would become. Within the week, Dr. Stevenson told him, "I take care of sick people,
and you're not sick." Martha cared for him at home, grateful to be a teacher and
be out for the summer. She and other family members drove Ruben to Paragould to
meet with Dr. Stevenson for his follow up appointments and rehabilitation.
While the Rodriguez family was very focused on Ruben's health, they didn't have
to worry about his health-care coverage. Ruben's insurance was through Blue Cross
and Blue Shield of Alabama, but through BlueCard®, his medical care was coordinated
between their office and Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
BlueCard is a national program that enables members of one Blue Plan to obtain health-care
services while traveling or living in another Blue Plan's service area. The program
links participating health-care providers with the independent Blue Plans worldwide
through a single electronic network for claims processing and reimbursement. The
Alabama Blue Cross Plan took care of Ruben's needs, and Arkansas Blue Cross made
sure the doctors, specialists and hospital received the quick service they needed.
Ruben is back to work and sharing his faith with others. He said he has learned
not to ignore the warning signs his body may give him and to continue on his medications
even when he is feeling well. His giving heart has been given another chance.