At the Heart of the Matter

Larry Christensen

Since 2004, Larry Christensen had been telling the story of the high quality of care available at Kadlec.

It was part of his job as executive director of Kadlec Foundation before his retirement at the end of 2013.

Little did Larry know that just a few weeks after his retirement, he would be experiencing firsthand the sophisticated care available right here in the Tri-Cities. It’s care he credits—along with the quick action of his wife—with saving his life.

In February, Larry began experiencing chest pain and tests showed he was not having a heart attack. The tests did show that he had fluid in his lungs so treatment focused on pneumonia. But as the pain increased, Larry’s wife Kathi decided, at 3 a.m. on February 12, that it was time to go to Kadlec’s Emergency Department.

He quickly underwent a CT scan, which revealed a thoracic aortic dissection -- a serious condition in which there is a tear in the wall of the major artery carrying blood out of the heart (aorta). As the tear extends along the wall of the aorta, blood can flow in between the layers of the blood vessel wall (dissection).

“A dissection is difficult to diagnose. Tests for a heart attack don’t indicate a dissection. A CT scan is the most accurate way to find it,” said Larry.

As soon as the dissection was discovered, “my emergency room was flooded with people. It was truly an emergency situation by that time. As many as 40 percent of those with an aortic dissection pass away before they even get to an operating room,” he said.

Kadlec cardiothoracic surgeon Juan Cordero, MD, arrived to perform the surgery, assisted by Hannan Chaugle, MD.

It was an 8 hour surgery. During the procedure, it was discovered that Larry had not just one, but two tears in his aorta.

“I truly marvel at the high level of medicine right here at Kadlec,” he said. “Before our heart program, I would have been sent to Seattle, Portland or Spokane, and I would not have made it. It’s a strong message about how important it is to have heart care here close to patients. It saves lives, including mine. Both Dr. Cordero and Dr. Chaugle told me ‘Larry, you are lucky to be alive.’”
While working at the Foundation, Larry saw growth in programs and services throughout the hospital that support a higher level of care.

“We have recruited numerous skilled doctors in important specialties. The Foundation itself has helped fund significant projects including the development of a pediatric center and expanding neonatal intensive care. The Foundation continually supports programs, services and equipment that have direct impact on patients. For years, I talked about the importance of high quality care at Kadlec, never thinking that I would personally get to experience it so soon after I retired. ”

Now, nearly nine months after surgery, he’s back playing some golf and traveling.

“I’m thankful every day,” he said.