It had been a good night. After celebrating Mass, Father Jim Kiesel, a pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Odenton, took a group of seminary students he was supervising out to dinner.
“We had a ball,” Father Jim says.“I felt great.”
But when he got home, Father Jim, 58, says he started having pains in his chest and a tingling down his arm. His chest felt heavy. So he phoned a parishioner, who is also a nurse, for advice.
“She told me to call 911 immediately.”
It was the best advice he could have received. When Father Jim arrived at the emergency room of AAMC, he was quickly diagnosed with what’s called ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI, the most severe and dangerous form of heart attack, in which the blood flow in a coronary artery is completely blocked.
Elizabeth Reineck, MD, an interventional cardiologist at AAMC, says the situation was grave: “The artery to the back side of his heart was completely blocked. We worked rapidly to get him to the catheterization lab and open up his artery.”
1,000 Lives—and Counting
Luckily, Father Jim had arrived at the right place. AAMC’s Emergency Heart Attack Program has saved more than 1,000 lives since its introduction in 2002. It’s a certified intervention center, and the response time is among the best in the country.
“The goal is to open a patient’s artery within 90 minutes from the time they arrive at the hospital,” Dr. Reineck says. “But here at AAMC, the vast majority of our patients have their artery open within 60 minutes.”
In the catheterization lab, Father Jim received an emergency angioplasty. During the procedure, a balloon-tipped tube is threaded into the blocked artery and then inflated. He also received a stent, a tiny wire-meshed tube that holds the artery open.
Father Jim says he feels incredibly lucky. The intervention saved his life, and the care that followed as he recovered at AAMC was compassionate and professional. “Anything I needed, they were right there to help me,” he says.
The Doctor-Patient Partnership
Father Jim says what has really stuck with him is the way Dr. Reineck and fellow cardiologist Jerry Segal, MD, interacted with him, “as an equal.”
“So often doctors are in and out, but Dr. Reineck and Dr. Segal really took time with me,” Father Jim says. “It wasn’t just business—it was genuine care.”
For her part, Dr. Reineck says she works hard to create a partnership between doctor and patient. “If you respect patients, they are more likely to value the information you provide,” she says. “For instance, if you help patients understand why the medication is important, they are much more likely to take it.”
It’s worked for Father Jim. Despite eating well and exercising regularly, he admits he had one serious vice before his heart attack—cigarettes. “I’d been a smoker since I was 17.”
But no longer. “I’m a reformed smoker now,” he says.
Father Jim is also participating in AAMC’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, which offers medically supervised exercise and counseling.
Now, Father Jim is again at work at St. Joseph, easing back into normal life. He says perhaps his biggest challenge these days is learning to let people take care of him instead of always taking care of others.
“I have a long life ahead,” he says. “I’m confident of that.” And he adds happily, “I also expect to have a long relationship with my cardiologist.”