“A dedicated and compassionate caregiver at St. Joseph Hospital for decades, Melvin Schwartz and his wife demonstrated their friendship and support for the Hospital by establishing a legacy through a generous charitable planned gift.”
A second chance to find his heart
A little over a year ago, Arturo DiPietro thought he was in the best shape of his life. After all, he worked out every day, never ate junk food and didn’t have any known chronic health conditions. So he was caught completely by surprise when his heart stopped just three days before his 49th birthday.
In a break from his usual evening workout schedule, Arturo joined the high-intensity, interval training class at Body One Fitness in Redondo Beach on the morning of September 15, 2016. He had planned to catch an afternoon plane to Italy for a work trip and wanted to make sure to get his workout in before taking off.
Just minutes into the workout, Arturo felt his head spinning, as his trainer urged him to get to the weight rack to begin his snatches. That’s the last thing he remembers before waking up in a hospital bed at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance, seeing his girlfriend’s face and learning that he’d had a quadruple bypass.
When Arturo collapsed that morning in the gym, he lost consciousness, wasn’t breathing and had no pulse. He was in full cardiac arrest, a condition where blood stops flowing and permanent damage to the brain or death can occur within four to six minutes.
Arturo is alive today because of the quick action and skill of a team of players, beginning with his trainer and classmates, paramedics and the medical team at Providence Little Company of Mary Torrance.
“I found my angels here in the City of Angels,” says Arturo, who immigrated to Los Angeles from Southern Italy in 2006. “Today I’m realizing how lucky I was.”
“Someone called 911,” says Helena Brioschi, Arturo’s girlfriend of six years, recalling what happened that morning. “The trainer and two students in the class started doing CPR. They were trained to do CPR, but that was the first time they’d done it.”
Paramedics arrived in five minutes to discover an arrhythmia in Arturo’s heart, called ventricular fibrillation. That’s when rapid, erratic electrical impulses cause the heart’s ventricles to quiver uselessly instead of pumping blood. It’s the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest.
They delivered two shocks to his heart, but nothing happened. They attempted to restart the heart with medication. Still nothing. The fourth jolt finally shocked his heart out of fibrillation and brought Arturo back. Paramedics rushed him to the Emergency Department at the Hospital, where he was intubated and put on a ventilator. An EKG was done, and Nazanin Azadi, MD, an interventional cardiologist, went to Arturo’s bedside.
Dr. Azadi immediately rushed Arturo to the catheterization lab for a coronary angiogram, which is a special type of X-ray that looks for blockages in the arteries of the heart.
“We found that all his arteries were blocked—the widow maker artery was 100% closed—and the remainder of his arteries were 70% or greater blocked,” Dr. Azadi says, noting that surgery is recommended for patients with multiple blockages.
She inserted an intra-aortic balloon pump that inflated and deflated to help relieve Arturo’s heart from working so hard, as he was rushed into surgery. Within an hour of the angiogram, Li Poa, MD, chief of cardiac surgery and medical director of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery services at the Medical Center, began bypass surgery to restore blood flow to the blocked arteries, using an artery from Arturo’s chest and veins from his leg.
After getting the telephone call that no one wants to get that morning, Helena rushed to the hospital.
“I walked into the emergency room by mistake instead of going through the lobby. I saw him lying down and all these people talking quickly to each other about things I didn’t understand. Then I learned that he was going to need a quadruple bypass,” Helena recalls. “I was overwhelmed and scared that we were going to lose him. But once I talked to Dr. Poa, I felt that somehow things were going to be OK.”
“The most important thing about this kind of situation is time. There’s a certain period after which opening the arteries is futile. If the muscle doesn’t get blood flow, it starts to necrose [die],” Dr. Azadi says. “[In Arturo’s case,] the timing was so perfect, we were able to regain his muscle function. If we’d waited longer, his recovery would not have been so good.”
Helena recalls seeing Dr. Poa afterwards who told her: “You have no idea how extremely lucky Arturo was.”
Even though CPR was immediately started at the gym to get oxygen flowing, Dr. Poa feared there might be some neurological damage, as Arturo was a little slow when they tried to wake him after surgery and his memory suffered a bit. But Dr. Poa says, “He was completely recovered within a month.”
Arturo went home three days after entering the hospital. The next day he celebrated his 49th birthday with friends. He returned to work in two months and was back working out at the gym within a few weeks—taking it slow and keeping an eye on his maximum heartbeat.
“I don’t feel any kind of difference. I’m doing exactly what I was doing before the heart attack,” Arturo says. “I realize when I take a shower in the morning and I see my scars, but I haven’t changed much.”
Arturo and Helena lavish praise on Drs. Poa and Azadi, the night nurses, the day nurses, the respiratory therapists, the home health workers and everyone else they encountered at the Hospital. They describe the care as “phenomenal.”
“I would rate the care at the hospital at more than five stars,” Helena says. “Little Company of Mary was founded on compassion, and let me tell you, it really shows. Everyone who walked into that room was very compassionate—everybody was a rock star.”
“The public should be aware of the incredible care they provide,” Arturo says. “I’m really grateful.”
Arturo and Helena have made a couple of changes since September 2016.
“We have both become CPR certified,” Helena says. “If they didn’t have CPR at the gym, it would have been too late. Maybe we can do that for someone else and save a life.”
The couple also plans to get trained and give back to the community as volunteers at Providence Little Company of Mary.
Together, we can provide care that transforms lives, now and for years to come.