The first collaboration between Keck Medicine of USC surgeons and USC Arcadia Hospital staff has paved the way for a new, full-time cardiac surgical program at the hospital.
Roger Bignell knew something was wrong when he woke up in severe pain at 4 a.m.
For about a month, he had felt chest tightness while going for walks during his lunch break, but he didn’t think too much of it.
“If I slowed down, it would go away,” Roger says.
But this pain, throbbing in his chest and both arms, overshadowed the daytime symptoms.
The 65-year-old Arcadia resident dialed 911 and managed to dress himself before an ambulance arrived and brought him to USC Arcadia Hospital, about a mile from his home.
An electrocardiogram confirmed that Roger had experienced a heart attack. A subsequent angiogram revealed the culprit: severe atherosclerosis — a buildup of cholesterol, lipids and calcium throughout his arteries.
“The blockage was not in a good area,” Roger says. “It was too close to the heart. It was crowding other valves.”
Although he initially hoped to avoid surgery, Roger agreed to undergo a triple bypass open-heart surgery one week after his heart attack. A triple bypass would reroute blood flow from his blocked vessels to unblocked ones.
New cardiac surgical collaboration in Arcadia
In September 2022, Roger received a triple bypass at USC-AH, performed by John Chen, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon from the USC Cardiac and Vascular Institute.
The surgery addressed Roger’s blockages and he avoided life-threatening complications in the aftermath, despite comorbidities like chronic renal disease.
“Dr. Chen was fantastic, before and after the surgery,” Roger says. “Rarely did I have a question to ask him that he hadn’t already covered with me.”
In addition to saving Roger’s life, the surgery was significant for another reason: It was the first collaborative surgery between Keck Medicine of USC surgeons and USC-AH personnel since the hospital’s new affiliation.
“Our long-standing aim has been to bring top-quality, advanced care to patients across Southern California, right in their own communities,” says Vaughn Starnes, MD, executive director of USC CVI. “This partnership is an exciting step toward that goal.”
Dr. Chen collaborated with nursing and operating room staff who had worked at the hospital prior to the new affiliation.
To create a full-time cardiac surgical program, Dr. Chen and other Keck Medicine physicians prepared the USC-AH intensive care unit, blood bank and laboratories. Meanwhile, nurses from USC-AH observed cases at Keck Medical Center of USC to prepare for Roger’s surgery.
“We’re all committed to making sure that we provide a very high standard of care for our patients,” Dr. Chen says.
Prior to the affiliation with Keck Medicine, which was announced July 1, 2022, the Arcadia hospital was staffed by highly skilled, board-certified community cardiac surgeons who rotated among USC-AH and other area hospitals.
Now, with USC CVI’s presence, USC-AH has regular, full-time cardiac surgery physicians on-site.
Since Roger’s surgery, San Gabriel Valley patients and referring physicians have continued to seek care from the new, collaborative USC-AH team, utilizing USC CVI’s surgical resources close to their homes.
“We have built significant trust in the team, and patients trust us to deliver their care,” Dr. Chen says. “There’s no greater privilege than to care for people that you work with.”
Our long-standing aim has been to bring top-quality, advanced care to patients across Southern California, right in their own communities. This partnership is an exciting step toward that goal.Vaughn Starnes, MD, executive director of USC CVI
Playing disc golf after heart surgery
After one month of outpatient recovery, Roger was able to return to his work as a property manager in Pasadena.
“I feel like I can do anything I could do before — climb ladders, lift things, whatever I need to do,” Roger says.
As Dr. Chen observed Roger during follow-up appointments, he was pleased with his patient’s improvement.
“It was a real win for him that he avoided all the potential complications,” Dr. Chen says. “The fact that we paid a great deal of attention to his postoperative care, as well as his diligence in the follow-up, really helped in his recovery.”
Roger, who has been an avid disc golf player on courses around the San Gabriel Valley since his twenties, is back in action.
Now recovered, and having avoided further serious complications, he can take part in the hobby he has enjoyed with friends for more than 40 years.