09:46 AM

Local surgeon puts his heart in St. Mary’s hands

Dr. Shiao and Dr. Azzouz

One hot summer night in August of 2021 in Grand Junction, Teyen Shiao, MD, was awoken in the middle of the night with pressure in his chest. At only 48-years-old and with no risk factors, the Grand Valley general surgeon assumed he was experiencing heartburn or an esophageal spasm.  But, after 5 hours, the chest pressure persisted and Shiao told his wife, Michelle, who happens to be the Chief Nursing Officer at St. Mary’s Medical Center, that something just didn’t feel right. 

“I told Michelle I was just going to go mow the lawn and see if it got worse, but she told me I was crazy and insisted we go to the emergency room,” Shiao explained. 

Without a second thought, the Shiao’s went to St. Mary’s, where they knew they would be in the best of hands. 

“It’s always kind of embarrassing to go into the hospital where you work,” Shiao said. “You don’t want to be that person who has a false alarm.”

Emergency Room physician Holly Buschhorn, MD, ran a series of tests on Shiao and despite his lack of risk factors it was quickly discovered that his troponin levels were elevated and two of his heart vessels were completely blocked. He was admitted into the cardiac unit under the care of St. Mary’s cardiologist Soubhi Azzouz, MD. But when the name Teyen Shiao appeared on his patient list, Azzouz was shocked. 

“I thought to myself, no way is this Dr. Shiao,” said Azzouz. “It’s probably his father or someone with the same name. And really, I hoped it wasn’t him. Then I walked into the room and was like oh my gosh, it’s him. I was completely surprised.”

Azzouz and Shiao knew each other well professionally. They sit on the hospital’s peer review committee and oftentimes share patients and confer on cases. But never had Shiao ever imagined he’d be his patient. 

“I’m always on the other end, performing the surgery,” said Shiao. “I definitely felt very vulnerable. It’s weird because I was terrified, but at the same time, I work with these people every day and had complete confidence that I was in the very best hands.”

Treatment options were thoroughly discussed between the two physicians and Azzouz performed a heart catheter through Shiao’s wrist artery to open up the two vessels.  According to Azzouz, this type of procedure comes with a potential, but unlikely risk that something could happen to the artery, causing the patient to lose feeling in the hand. 

“My living is based on using my hands,” Shiao explained. “God forbid if there were any complications my career as a surgeon is over. But I never doubted his capabilities and I trusted Soubhi completely.”

The heart catheter procedure was a success and Shiao was cleared to go home after 48 hours. The St. Mary’s cardiology team continued to monitor his heart function remotely.

“If I’m being honest, it’s a little bit different when you’re doing a procedure on someone you know personally and you work with in the medical field,” said Azzouz. “But at the end of the day, we treat them like any other patient and things will be okay and that’s what happened here.”

Shiao was fortunate to have a complete recovery of the heart function without any sustained damage. He is able to live life normally without any restrictions, except for his diet. 

“I love French fries, and now I almost never get to eat them,” Shiao said. “I love savory foods and now everything I eat has to be low sodium. But it’s been good and it’s well worth it. It’s all about perspective.” 

For both Shiao and Azzouz, this unexpected meeting has brought them even closer. 

“When I see Soubhi in meetings now, we’re still both very professional, but I’d say there’s more of a fuzzy feeling,” Shiao smiled. 

“I feel like now there is a bond that’s different than before,” Azzouz said. “This is a man who trusted me with his life and he had lots of options.” 

For Shiao, out of this life threatening event came two big life lessons learned. 

“I’m not the poster child of someone who is having a heart attack, yet I had one. Always listen to your body, and your wife,” he said with a laugh. 

And for Azzouz, “I’m just hopeful he won’t pay me back and I won’t end up on his table one day.”