When St. Joseph Hospital specialists came to the Tustin Police station to perform voluntary wellness checks, a police sergeant in what appeared to be peak physical shape discovered his life-threatening heart condition.
Sean Quinn was probably the last person anyone at the Tustin Police Department (TPD) would expect to have health issues. His sculpted physique was a testament to his days as a standout defensive back for Tustin High School’s football, followed by three decades of mountain biking and other physical passions and, at the time of his wellness check, CrossFit participation. A wellness check in May 2017 that took mere minutes showed otherwise.
The TPD wellness checks were instituted, in part, after one of Quinn’s colleagues and best friends suffered a heart attack in his office. Quinn happened to be at work that day, and road in the ambulance to the hospital.
During the wellness check, a St. Joseph Hospital nurse took Quinn’s blood pressure and a technician performed an electrocardiogram to record the electrical activity of Quinn’s heart using electrodes placed on his skin. Afterwards Quinn recalls, “They were going to go over my results with me and I’m sitting at this table and a nurse comes and sits next to me. Then another nurse appears right behind me and starts rubbing my shoulders. I’m thinking, ‘What’s going on?’”
He was told, “You have chronic AFib,” referring to atrial fibrillation—an irregular heartbeat can lead to blood clots, stroke, or death. “You need to go see a cardiologist immediately.”
Reflecting back, Quinn admits, “The signs were all there (that something was wrong with my heart), but it took that wellness check to wake me up.”
A year or so prior to the wellness test, Quinn experienced an episode when he was about to sleep, but he wrote it off to working out too much.
“I was lying in bed and my heart was going absolutely crazy,” he recalls. “It was pounding and racing.” He thought about calling 911, but he didn’t. Eventually, he fell asleep.
After his wellness check, Quinn took the specialists’ advice. He saw a cardiologist who performed two cardioversions, a procedure aimed at restoring a normal heart rhythm by sending electric shocks to the heart through electrodes placed on the chest. Unfortunately, they weren’t effective. He then scheduled a visit with an electrophysiologist who specializes in heart rhythms.
About this time, Quinn tore his Achilles tendon during defensive tactics training and needed surgery. Then, he developed blood clots in his right leg and was put on blood thinners. Six months later, Quinn was having significant pain and coughing up blood. Emergency room doctors discovered blood clots in his lungs. One told him, “I can’t believe you’re still alive.”
Quinn spent the next four days in the hospital on intravenous (IV) blood thinners to help his body dissolve the clots. Doctors subsequently found blood clots in his left leg, and for a while he received blood thinner injections. Quinn subsequently underwent two cardiac ablations, a procedure that can correct heart rhythm problems by scarring or destroying tissue in the heart that causes the abnormal heart rhythm.
Since August 2018, he hasn’t had another heart episode. He continues to take anti-arrhythmia medications and will be on blood thinners for the rest of his life. Quinn medically retired from the TPD in 2017 and misses being on the force, but at age 51 has launched his own private investigations company. He’s also enjoying camping with his family and has taken up surfing.
“I think a lot of cops get really focused on doing the job and working overtime and buying the RVs and boats and getting the bigger house, and they kind of forget what’s important, you know? I want to watch my (three) kids graduate and have grandkids. Now I think more about the things that are important in life,” he says.
One of his friends and former colleagues adds, “I’m grateful for that wellness test, because although we lost a good cop, it saved the life of one of my closest friends.”
To schedule a heart screening, call 714-744-8523.
Excerpts from Behind the Badge newsletter
In the words of a congestive heart failure patient, enrollment in the St. Joseph Hospital Heart Failure Program is “life changing.”
This past spring, Ramona came into the ER and was admitted for Coronary Heart Failure. “I had gained weight and I couldn’t walk or breathe,” recalls Ramona, who is a former smoker and diabetic. When she was admitted to the hospital, her glucose level exceeded 400. She hadn’t been feeling well but hadn’t gone to see a doctor.
Before leaving the hospital, Ramona and family members met Heart Failure Program Coordinator Sarah Atchison, R.N., BSN, PCCN (Above, left). Sarah taught Ramona about changes she could make to her diet, and gave her literature to take home. She took the advice to heart. Four months later, Ramona’s blood sugar was down to 133, and she no longer required insulin. She has lost 70 pounds, including a lot of fluid, and with a portable oxygen device is able to take walks and do Tai Chi. She’s back to playing Bingo. Ramona is looking forward to rejoining the choir at the Tustin Senior Center, and attending her 55-year class reunion in Wyoming.
She credits Sarah with giving her tools to better health. “I follow a diet low in calories and sodium. Before I ate too many TV dinners and ate a lot of salt and sugar. Now I enjoy fish, chicken and turkey – but just the white meat. And I love fruit,” she says, adding, “I’m glad I’m still here!”
"Having previously undergone six open-heart surgeries, I wasn't expecting too many differences during lucky number seven, although the location changed and the doctor line-up was different.
A month earlier, I had an angiogram. The results led to the conclusion that surgery would need to be performed within the calendar year. I was promptly set-up with my surgeon-to-be, and I was very confident in him after we met.
During the hospital pre-op appointment I quickly knocked out the required chest x-ray and blood draws. The hospital staff did a phenomenal job of educating me on my condition, what the current procedure was going to correct, what past procedures had corrected, and the future prognosis of my condition. They walked me through the recovery process, literally, as I toured the main entrance to the hospital, the pre-op area, intensive care, and the cardio-renal floor. They even discussed hotel options for my mother, who flew out to be with me. After spending 3.5 hours at the hospital, I felt in control of the situation, which relieved any remaining stress I may have had.
On surgery day, everything went just as discussed. Later that day when I woke up from surgery I felt great, relatively speaking. That was a surprise because usually coming out of heart surgery I felt like a train wreck. The surgery went very smoothly and while recovery was tough, it wasn't the same degree as I had experienced in the past.
I saw both the surgeon and cardiologist regularly throughout my week of recovery in the hospital. When it was time to check out I felt good; I didn't feel rushed or hurried to leave the hospital. The medical team helped me to understand my limitations and when the limitations would be lifted as well as any symptoms to watch for during my recovery at home.
For any patients dealing with members of the Adult Congenital Heart Center at St. Joseph Hospital I would tell them that they will definitely receive excellent care from confident and knowledgeable medical professionals who are on the leading edge. Every step of my open-heart experience, from diagnosis, to pre-op, surgery, and post-op, the Adult Congenital Heart Team at St. Joseph took excellent care of me."
St. Joseph Hospital views every interaction with patients as an opportunity to serve in the tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange. Here's a sampling of patient satisfaction survey comments:
- "The nurse really was a great help talking to me and keeping me calm during this time. She was wonderful."
- "My experience at St. Joseph's has always been excellent. Thank you St. Joseph!!"
- "Everyone at Pavilion are very nice and caring and especially professionals. Thank you, all of you, for caring for my mom. Thank you for all your help. My mom is doing so much better because you care."
- "From the first day that I went to the Heart Center at St. Joseph Hospital for an echocardiogram test, I noticed that your staff was very professional, polite and showed a concern for my visit. I hope to have medical insurance that my family and I can continue to have St. Joseph Hospital to take care of all our medical needs."
- "Deanna Carlson was very friendly and did a very good job of explaining my test and information."
- "Can't remember names but your staff members are all angels. They make you feel like everything's going to be ok!"
- "In regard to the Cardiac Rehab Dept. and the program, it's excellent! I'm so grateful to my doctor for recommending it! It was truly a great benefit to me. It helped me both physically & mentally. The staff is excellent, caring & kind."
- "The nurses go above and beyond there calling and truly show a genuine concern and interest in the folks the care for, my time went by so quickly I wish I could have stayed longer. Many Thanks and God Bless."