Patient Stories

Doris Harris

Doris Harris, Coronary Artery Bypass

Four years ago, Doris' heart stopped. Emergency coronary artery bypass surgery saved her life. Only the quick thinking of her doctors, Andreas Sakopoulos, MD, and Jeong Sik Park, MD, and her surgical team, brought her home again. Doris' heart had completely stopped. Her chest was opened and Dr. Sakopoulos massaged her heart. "He literally took my heart in his hand and pumped it, and started it back up, and I made it."

Just a short time before, heart disease hadn't even been on Doris' radar. She was active, walking daily in the hills and working in her garden. The only thing slowing her down was severe heartburn: Doris would frequently have to stop and wait for it to subside. Treatment seemed to have no effect.

"I look back and I can't believe the way this all came together," says Doris' daughter-in-law, Elsa. "My daughter, Jessica, was a nursing student, just practicing her skills. Jessica heard something in Mom's carotid artery, and thought we should get her checked out right away. Mom's primary doctor couldn't confirm it, but something just didn't feel right, so we got a referral to Dr. Park."

Dr. Park ordered a series of non-invasive tests. "The test results were actually not too bad," he explains, "but the patient was still experiencing chest pain. Since tests are not always conclusive, if there are symptoms, we keep investigating."

Because of her ongoing chest pain, Doris was scheduled for an angiogram. "We're so grateful that Dr. Park cared enough to keep investigating," says Elsa. "If he hadn't, I don't think we'd still have her with us."

The angiogram showed severe blockages—up to 95%—in all branches of the coronary arteries. Dr. Park immediately called in a cardiac surgeon, and Doris was taken directly from the cath lab to surgery for a quintuple bypass.

During the dizzying transition from what they expected to be a routine test to emergency surgery, her family waited anxiously for word. "Eventually a nurse came out to tell us it was still touch and go, and too soon to tell. We spent the next hour or two pretty much on our knees," Elsa recalls. "All we knew was that Mom's heart had stopped, and they were working on her. Later we learned Dr. Sakopoulos had done open-chest CPR, then an emergency bypass surgery."

To Dr. Sakopoulos, it's all just a part of what he does. "There's no doubt that it's very fulfilling when some of these patients who typically have a very high mortality are able to be pulled from surgery and the post-operative period and make their way back home to their loved ones."

To Doris' family, it's nothing short of a gift. "We have a strong faith in God, and an absolute faith that God guided her doctors. I thought it was incredible that everyone knew exactly what to do in that situation," Elsa says.

Doris' surgery was merely the start of a year that both tested and sustained the Harris family's faith. Her tests also revealed a small spot on one lung, an early-stage cancer that Dr. Sakopoulos later successfully removed. And just weeks after Doris's heart surgery, her granddaugher, Jessica, went into labor three months early. "We feel so blessed to still have Mom, and our beautiful granddaughter, but it was definitely a life-changing year for our family," Elsa says.

"Doris' was a uniquely challenging situation in many ways," Dr. Sakopoulos adds. "She had three lethal conditions that we took care of within a single year: heart disease, peripheral arterial disease and lung cancer. Doris had three operations in that time and did wonderfully with them, and that says a lot about her."

"I call Jessica my guardian angel. And Dr. Sakopoulos, well, I call him my adopted son," Doris says with a smile. "St. Helena was a godsend."

Her family agrees. "What we appreciated most is that the care isn't just physical, it's spiritual as well. As Christians, that's huge for us," Elsa explains. "The entire team was tremendous. Dr. Sakopoulos is so calm and comforting, and treats you like family. And Dr. Park has such an endearing manner, you just feel this confidence that everything's going to be okay."

For Doris, her life feels renewed. The pain is gone, and with lifestyle changes learned through cardiac rehab, she feels better than ever.

"She's active, she has hobbies, she walks, loves working in her yard, and has more friends.

She's enjoying every day; the change has just been amazing," Elsa explains. "The biggest change, though, for all of us, is that we learned you just can't take life for granted. It made us realize how precious and fleeting it can be, and let go of all those little annoyances and appreciate each other. We're just very grateful for the time we have with her."

The heart institute has pioneered cardiac care in the region for the past 30 years, bringing a number of "firsts" to the area, including minimally invasive cardiac bypass surgery. Long known as one of the Bay Area's best cardiac centers, its multidisciplinary teams deliver state-of-the-art heart care with the goal of helping residents Live Younger Longer.

"It takes an entire team to make outcomes like this possible," Dr. Sakopoulos adds. "Our goal is to set the standard for cardiac care, and community philanthropy allows us do that, to keep the equipment up to date, and attract the best cardiologists and surgeons."

And for one family, the gift is measured in Sunday morning breakfasts, making the most of time together.


Connell Murray undergoes three major heart procedures without any scars to show for it.

It was not a typical Easter for Jane, who experienced a stroke at the beginning of dinner. Her right carotid artery was blocked. Jane says, "Since the surgery I've felt so much better, and now I do everything I did before."

Brian Hopkins was in A-Fib constantly since the age of 35. His heart was beating out of rhythm, he was tired and light headed almost all of the time. He was cardioverted six times without success. He finally realized this is not the way he wanted to live his life. He then discovered the Hybrid Maze procedure. After speaking to Dr. Dunnington, he felt confident and appreciated his can-do spirit. He felt better immediately after the procedure. According to Brian Hopkins, "This was a life-changing deal."

Roy Sabraw's angiogram showed a blockage and so he needed to go in for bypass surgery. His cardiologist, Dr. Parks, sent him to St. Helena for surgery and the staff and doctors helped him through it. He says, "The people there put you at ease almost immediately. I'd have to say personnel wise, they're the greatest I've seen. The care you receive after surgery is delivered not only on a professional basis but also on a one-to one basis where you feel more like an individual."

Rich Bradd had many active, outdoor, hobbies but was having pain in his legs which was limiting his activity. After seeing Dr. Sakopolous, he found out that his right carotid artery was almost plugged and his lower extremities had plaque that needed to be cleaned out. Rich says, "Before the procedure I could only walk 50 to 75 yards because had pain in my calf muscles. Now I have no pain at all. After the procedures with Dr. Sakopoulos, I'm enjoying life more because I don't have the discomfort." He is back to his outdoor hobbies and recently returned from a trip to Alaska.

Fifteen years ago Tom Ohlsson was diagnosed with Atrial Fibrillation. After activities became more and more difficult, he realized he had a serious condition that was definitely impacting his life. After drug therapy, followed by ablation therapy that eventually reverted back to A-Fib, he discovered a new alternative, the Hybrid Maze procedure. After just two weeks following the procedure, he realized he got his life back. According to Tom Ohlsson, "if there is any less here to be learned, it's that you don't have to live with A-Fib the rest of your life."

After experiencing a severe case of Atrial Fibrillation following a game of tennis, Jeff Baily knew he had a serious condition. After being diagnosed, he was prescribed medications. Severe side effects and the fact that his problem persisted led him to do more research, which is when he discovered the Hybrid Maze procedure. Offered at few locations, he was introduced to Dr. Gan Dunnington, who made him feel confident that it was going to be the right decisions. Immediately following the procedure, he knew his heart was fixed and he could get back to doing what he loved doing. "If there is any advice I can give, its don't walk to get this procedure, run to go see Dr. Dunnington," says Jeff Baily.

After years of A-Fib, L. David Newgen thought that he didn't have any treatments that worked for him. He found Dr. Dunnington and Dr. Chang-Sing and after an hour of consultation, both he and his wife felt confident in the procedure. "Two weeks after...I was back in the gym working out...I can feel my strength coming back and just everything I could have hoped for."

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The Adventist Heart Institute values your privacy and handles your personal information with care. Your email address and information is secure, confidential and will not be sold to any third party sources.

AHI Rebrand