Kim Steinberg’s choice of podcasts for a May road trip turned out to be fortuitous.
Steinberg drove from the Treasure Valley to visit national parks in southern Utah with her sister. On that trip, she listened to author A.J. Jacobs discuss his quest to thank those who had made his morning cup of coffee, everyone from the barista to the Colombian farmers who grew the beans.
Back home in Boise, her husband, Si, was not having a relaxing time.
On Monday, May 24, he had a little chest pain. His heart rate dropped and he felt some abdominal pain, so he went to get checked out. He was told nothing was out of the ordinary.
“I’m a doctor. I figured I knew some stuff,” said Steinberg, who has been a consulting psychiatrist for the State of Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections, several group homes and schools. “… but after they said nothing seemed wrong, I just thought I’d eaten some bad cherries or something.”
In the following days, the chest pain lingered but didn’t progressively get worse. Steinberg got a COVID-19 test, which was negative. He was able to walk his dogs a mile each day with little issue.
But late at night Wednesday, more than two days after first feeling pain in his chest, he felt an irregular heartbeat.
The next day at St. Luke’s, he had a cardioversion to shock his heart into a normal rhythm. He also had a very different diagnosis.
“I got a chest CT, and they had the contrast dye to figure out what was happening – they said, ‘You have a dissecting aorta,’ and I was like, ‘You’re kidding me,’” Steinberg said.
“Then it was, ‘Guess I’m going right into surgery.’”
According to the National Institute of Health, with aortic dissection, there is “a mortality rate of about 1% per hour initially, with half of the patients expected to be dead by the third day.”
By Steinberg’s estimate, close to 96 hours, or four full days, had passed since he began feeling chest pain.
“I didn’t realize it, but the St. Luke’s people pulled me back from the brink,” Steinberg said.
Immediately, Kim Steinberg began her drive back to Idaho, getting frequent updates from St. Luke’s staff. Every emotion imaginable went through her mind. She was told there was a chance Si wouldn’t make it out of surgery.
“I really work on taking dark situations and seeing the light,” Kim said. “Bad things happen all the time … in the past, I’ve let it overcome me, but this time, I tried to be as positive as I could.”
When she made it to St. Luke’s Boise, Kim didn’t know what condition her husband would be in. She thought it would be touch and go, but when she walked in, Si was awake, albeit a bit groggy.
One person there with him was ICU nurse April Schultz.
“You can imagine how I felt walking in there, but she was so reassuring. Her manner, the way she took care of him, I felt OK leaving him there with her,” Kim said. “I just knew she would take good care of him.”
Si spent five days at St. Luke’s before heading home. During her husband's time in the hospital, Kim’s eyes were opened to all things around Si’s care, and she remembered the podcast.
Kim wanted to get the names of all those who had anything to do with Si’s care, from the surgeon to the nurses to the environmental services team members and those who made and delivered the food.
“I put my emotions into writing thank-you cards,” Kim said.
It struck a chord at St. Luke’s, understanding that a positive experience is rarely made by a single person, but by an entire team of people.
“It was wonderful to come to the office and hear the voicemail Kim had left wanting to thank everyone, just a great example of people in so many groups going above and beyond,” said Denise Camacho, St. Luke’s manager of care experience.
Kim wanted to get the names of as many people as possible, like Schultz and Dr. David Stuesse, who performed the surgery, to RN Maggie Block, who found open pharmacies over the Memorial Day weekend to get Si needed medications, and physician assistant Tyler Stewart, who helped confirm a prescription while riding his bike.
“They put up with me so well when I was there and after, so it was important to show our appreciation,” Si Steinberg said.
Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.