My husband, Alfredo, began having heart problems back in 2009, at the age of 39, due to a rare genetic heart condition. At that time, we knew that many of my husband’s family members required pacemakers early in life, and many of them had strokes, or passed away prematurely from heart disease.
Alfredo’s first cardiologist (at a different hospital) performed an ablation, which at the time, we thought was a cure for his arrhythmias. However, less than one year later, he went into heart failure and required a 2-lead pacemaker. We thought that he was going to be fine with the pacemaker, but his heart function continued to decline over the following year. This cardiologist could not give us any explanation as to why a young, vibrant man, like Alfredo, was deteriorating so rapidly. My husband and I were discouraged and worried.
Luckily, shortly thereafter, we changed health insurance, and when my husband was hospitalized yet again with more arrhythmias, we met Dr. Michelle Khoo. I was impressed and relieved with her ability to determine why my husband’s heart was functioning so poorly. She said he needed another ablation for the arrhythmias, but the reason his heart function was declining, was that his left ventricle was enlarged and he needed a bi-ventricular pacemaker with three leads.
During that hospital stay, while Alfredo was in his hospital bed, he had a conversation with Dr. Khoo that I’ll never forget. He asked, “Dr. Khoo, many of my family members suffer from this heart problem. Do you think it might be an SCN5A genetic mutation?” She sat next to him on his hospital bed, smiled, looked into his eyes, gently placed her hand on his chest, and said, “I don’t know if it’s SCN5A, but let’s find out. Don’t worry, I’m going to take good care of you.” In that moment, I fell in love with Dr. Khoo, and I think my husband did too! I have never met a more compassionate physician.
She ordered the genetic testing to find out which underlying genetic mutation(s) might be causing my husband’s heart disease. It took a few months to get the results, but it was not SCN5A. It was LMNA mutation, which causes dilated cardiomyopathy, arrhythmias & sudden death, due to the potential to develop fatal ventricular arrhythmias! This meant that my husband would not only require a 3-lead pacemaker, but also an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator), which would shock him back to life if his heart had a fatal arrhythmia. Because of Dr. Khoo’s proactive investigation, the findings from the genetic testing were critical in changing the course of treatment for my husband, and also potentially for many of his family members with the same heart disease!
A few months later, Dr. Khoo upgraded my husband’s 3 lead pacemaker to include the ICD. It was incredibly fortunate that Dr. Khoo implanted the ICD, because two months later, my husband did in fact have a fatal ventricular arrhythmia, and was shocked back to life by his ICD. If we had never met Dr. Khoo, done the genetic testing, and implanted the ICD, my husband would not be alive today!
While the ICD kept him alive, his heart disease continued to progress over the next year, and he developed some serious dangerous ventricular arrhythmias. He required a very complicated and extensive ablation procedure, which could not be done in the state of New Mexico. Dr. Khoo advocated for him and located one of the best proceduralists in the country to perform his surgery, and she arranged for an emergency medical jet to fly both of us to San Francisco for the procedure (usually spouses aren’t allowed to fly on the medical jet). While my husband was in surgery, Dr. Khoo called my cell phone to get updates and also to see how I was doing. Dr. Khoo brought me unparalleled reassurance and comfort during this very frightening procedure, in taking the time out of her busy schedule to check on both of us, with true heart-felt concern!
The surgeon in San Francisco was not able to ablate all of the circuits causing Alfredo’s arrhythmias, and he said eventually Alfredo’s condition would become fatal, because there was nothing more that could be done, and so he needed to be evaluated for a heart transplant. Dr. Khoo then arranged for my husband to be seen by Dr. JoAnn Lindenfeld at the University of Colorado in Denver, one of the best transplant doctors in the entire country!
Within weeks, he was evaluated and approved to receive a heart transplant, and was placed on the list. Approximately 1 ½ years later, he became very symptomatic, and was most likely living out his last days. Dr. Khoo & Dr. Lindenfeld communicated to the transplant team that his condition was deteriorating, and that his status needed to be escalated on the transplant list. This advocacy was medicine at it’s best, because shortly thereafter, he received a perfect match for his heart transplant! While I realize that many factors go into a successful heart transplant, Dr. Khoo provided us with a sense of security in knowing she was always looking out for his well-being.
When a person’s life is impacted by a chronic illness like heart disease, feelings of despair and fear can easily infiltrate their life. But, Dr. Khoo seems to find ways of bringing hope and joy into the situation. Each and every time Alfredo was hospitalized, she gave him something to look forward to: a goal, a project, or something she would like him to work on. She would give him words of encouragement & tell him to stay strong. This kept him looking to the future, which provided him with optimism and focused on something else constructive, other than his heart disease!
On top of that, Dr. Khoo had her regular Patient Education Support Meetings. Each time we attended these meetings, we learned something new, and we were inspired to hear people with heart disease sharing their stories of overcoming obstacles & continuing to live well!
I know Dr. Khoo has many, many patients, but she has a way of making us feel like my husband is her only patient. While I know she is very busy, she never seems rushed or stressed out when she is with us. Her sunshiny personality, smile, laughter & sense of humor make me feel happy inside.
I think it is so fitting that Dr. Khoo is a cardiologist, because she is all HEART, literally and figuratively! She takes care of her patients’ physical heart, but she also nurtures their emotional heart. On top of that, she cares about her patient’s well-being by keeping them intellectually informed and socially connected, with her patient education meetings, which have proven so valuable to us over the years. I just don’t know what we would do without Dr. Khoo. She is special and irreplaceable. She has become an integral part of our lives. Because of her, our family is still intact. Alfredo is still alive, I still have my husband, and our children still have their father. That’s a gift I’m eternally grateful for. Thank you Dr. Khoo!