Although his only concern was a potential torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, he had wanted to get established with a primary care practice as his previous Wichita doctor had retired. He chose Dr. Nickel because she was Carol’s long-time family physician.
That visit would prove to be a lifesaver for the 56-year-old disabled U.S. Army veteran, who by Friday of that week underwent surgery to address a 99 percent blockage of his left anterior descending artery, a condition often referred to as the “widow-maker.”
“Dr. Nickel listened and took me seriously when I wasn't taking my health seriously,” says Kevin, as did her colleagues, who responded with such speed, "I didn't have time to be nervous or scared."
'Oh, by the way...'
Kevin had thought the three to four miles he walked each day would be enough to keep him healthy, despite his family history of heart disease.
Consequently, it wasn't until midway through Kevin's patient visit that he told Dr. Nickel, "Oh, by the way, I also have had some burning chest pains."
Before Kevin’s return to Kansas, those pains had led to two visits to the ER, which were attributed to heartburn, and a consult with his family physician, who placed him on a two-month waiting list for a treadmill test.
While Kevin appeared to be in good health, Dr. Nickel was concerned about the unusual chest pains and her new patient’s genetics. So she referred him to cardiologist Andre Saad, MD, who saw him that same day.
After listening to Kevin’s story, Dr. Saad recommended that he undergo a left heart catheterization immediately and contacted another Ascension Medical Group specialist, interventional cardiologist Ali Elkharbotly, MD, to perform the procedure. However, Kevin’s insurance company would not authorize the procedure until he underwent a stress test.
“So we expedited his stress test due to his concerning and severely abnormal symptoms,” says Dr. Saad.
The insurance company then approved the procedure and Dr. Elkharbotly performed Kevin’s heart catheterization the following day at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis.
When his procedure was finished, Kevin says, "They just wheeled me down the hall to a room and admitted me because they didn't want me walking because I had such a bad blockage."
On Friday, just four days after his initial visit with Dr. Nickel, Kevin underwent a quadruple coronary bypass artery graft performed by Wichita Surgical Specialists' Brett Grizzell, MD, and Bethany Harpole, MD. He then spent the next four days recovering in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care and Progressive Care units before being discharged home.
"Those nurses were right there with me every step of the way," says Kevin, adding he was impressed by all the care he received that fateful week. "You can tell all these people really care and want you to get better.”
Kevin credits God, Dr. Nickel, Dr. Saad and the entire team of physicians, nurses and other caregivers at St. Francis for saving his life.
"The timing and the speed was amazing," says Kevin, who believes divine intervention played a major role. "When God told me it was OK to move back home, everything just went so fast."
The Wills had a cash buyer for their home in just one week, which brought them to Wichita sooner than they would have thought possible, and he was able to get in to see Dr. Nickel quickly.
"I could have been walking and bam, just like that, I would’ve been dead," says Kevin, who a month after his surgery was walking three miles a day and now continues to work closely with Dr. Nickel and Dr. Saad to keep him on the road to recovery.
As for Dr. Nickel and Dr. Saad, they say they’re thankful to have played a role in getting Kevin the timely care he needed so he could be here to enjoy time with his family.
"We did everything in less than a week that they couldn't get started in Oklahoma for two months,” says Dr. Nickel.
That required a team of physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses and EKG technicians, says Dr. Saad, adding, “We pride ourselves in serving as one team, committed to caring for patients in the best possible way.”