February 24th, 2021

A Vascular Technologist’s Own Journey to Better Heart Health

health facts

Last May, Alex Lugo, a team leader for the Peripheral Vascular Laboratory (PVL) at Sentara Leigh Hospital found himself at Sentara Heart Hospital (SHH) not as an employee, but as a patient. He shares the integral part the team at Sentara Heart played in supporting him on his journey to better heart health.

Alex Lugo Sentara healthcare Heart Hospital hampton roads

First, A Little Bit About Alex’s Career Path

I have worked in healthcare for over 28 years and spent the last 21 years working for Sentara. Although I majored in Biology, it wasn’t until post-grad while working full-time in the National Guard that I joined an on-the-job training program to be a vascular technologist. Back then, that kind of training wasn’t as widely available in the United States. After several years of training and acquired experience, I passed the vascular registry boards which gratefully led to many career opportunities.  I am now a Registered Vascular Technologist and have an MBA with a concentration in healthcare administration.

One could infer my choice to work in a program that supported vascular health could be considered fortuitous given what the future would hold. This past May I found myself facing my own heart health journey when I underwent a quadruple coronary artery bypass.

Alex’s Journey as a Patient

Many family members on my mother’s side of the family have a history of cardiovascular disease. For me, it was not if I would get heart disease, but much more likely, when? A year before my surgery, I was having chest pain with exertion. I missed a trip to Italy with just less than 24 hours to board the plane because I was recommended to have an emergency Cardiac Catheterization (Cardiac Cath).  These are used to diagnose common heart and blood vessel problems. The results showed a small branch of an artery with significant disease, which was decided at first to be managed with medications.  But 10 months later, I was having chest pain again and after a second emergency cardiac cath, we learned that the cardiac disease had progressed significantly, showing in several major cardiac vessels.

This is where my journey with Sentara Heart Hospital began.


Alex’s Path to Better Health

Given my healthcare background and knowledge of my family history I was blessed to be able to notice and articulate my problems and concerns to my physicians. I shared my initial complaints of chest pain with my PCP Dr. Steven Choi at Sentara Internal Medicine Specialists, and he ordered my first cardiac studies. After this,  Dr. Ronald Stine with Sentara Cardiology Specialists acted immediately on my symptoms and walked me directly to the cath lab. My surgery was performed by Dr. Eric Unger with Sentara Mid-Atlantic Cardiothoracic Surgeons. He explained the surgical procedure in a very calm and reassuring demeanor that convinced me I was in good hands. These three physicians along with the entire team at Sentara Heart Hospital are the reason I am on the path to better health today. With every procedure, I was overwhelmed by the compassion, professionalism, and love I received. Everyone from registration, to the nursing staff in the emergency room were kind and made me feel at ease.  It’s unbelievable how they support each other as a team and how the quality of care is the same at every touch point, I was always in really good hands. 

Since surgery I have lost 40 pounds so far and I am much more aware of the foods I consume. I also drink more water and exercise regularly. It is through regular checks and healthy living that every day I get stronger. This experience has also reminded me to focus on the important things in my life; my family, the ability to travel and the importance of living life one day at a time.