Ryan Chiu, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon of MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center, miraculously walked out of a local Long Beach restaurant just in time to see 47-year-old marathon runner, Tuan Pham, collapse from cardiac arrest outside the Long Beach Museum of Art on Oct. 15, 2023.
“This wasn’t something I was expecting – I was coming out of a restaurant where the marathon was taking place when I saw a runner who stumbled and collapsed to the ground,” says Dr. Chiu. “His face was blue, and I couldn’t feel a pulse, so I immediately began chest compressions.”
Pham was suffering from ventricular fibrillation, the most serious abnormal heart rhythm that prevents blood from being pumped out of the heart to vital organs in the body. If not treated quickly, it can lead to sudden cardiac death. The survival rates of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest are usually less than 10 percent.
When the EMS response team arrived on scene, the responders performed a defibrillation to shock Pham’s heart out of the dangerous heart rhythm. Dr. Chiu notified the response EMS team that he was a cardiac surgeon and asked them to transport Pham to MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center, where the care team could put him on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) had Pham not been successfully cardioverted. This machine functions as an advanced life support oxygenating blood and pumping it back into the body in cases of cardiogenic shock.
Once the ambulance took Pham away, Dr. Chiu called Long Beach Medical Center to assemble a care team and sped to the hospital to meet them.
The Emergency Department at Long Beach Medical Center is one of only a few designated cardiac receiving centers in the region with emergency treatment times that beat the national average in patient cardiac care. Within 10 minutes of arriving at Long Beach Medical Center, Todd Zynda, M.D., performed a catheterization procedure to identify the anatomy and blockages of Pham’s heart. During the procedure, Dr. Zynda saw that there was a 90% blockage in Pham’s left main artery.
Pham was diagnosed with severe coronary artery disease, and to correct the blockages, Dr. Chiu performed a successful coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery the following day. During CABG surgery, a healthy blood vessel from another area in the body is used to create a bypass around a blocked artery. This involves grafting the healthy blood vessel onto the coronary arteries –rerouting blood flow around the blocked area.
“By creating detours around blockages, we ensure a steady flow of blood, reducing the risk of another heart attack and promoting a healthier, more efficient cardiovascular system for Pham,” said Dr. Chiu.
The MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Medical Center is one of California's most comprehensive centers for diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of cardiovascular disease. CABG surgery is a common and effective procedure performed to restore blood circulation and improve overall heart function.
“I feel like I won the lottery, but even better,” said Pham. “I don’t need money; I need more time here. I’m not a spiritual person, but I really believe that it was my parents who were looking out for me when I collapsed in front of Dr. Chiu.”
Pham’s parents both passed away in their 50s from heart attacks. Dr. Chiu and the care team determined that the severity of Pham’s heart disease is caused by a genetic trait that does not allow his body to process cholesterol effectively.
“I took care of myself and did everything I could to stay healthy, but this goes to show that it could happen to anybody,” said Pham. “I’ve been telling all my friends to get their checkups – make the time even if you’re busy.”
After leaving the cardiac critical care unit, Dr. Chiu presented Pham with a medal from the 39th Long Beach Marathon, donated by a community member who was deeply touched by Pham’s story. They shared that Pham had completed the most important race – getting healthy again.
Pham, who was two miles short from the finish line, plans to go back next year to complete the race. He shared that heart surgery will not prevent him from finishing this year’s course or running next year’s marathon.