Heart Patients Express Gratitude to Physicians, Care Teams at Reunion

February 21, 2024
The participants of Winter Haven Hospital’s first Heart Recovery Reunion pose for a photo on Feb. 13.


The night of March 4, 2023, began as an ordinary one for Carlos Altman. He was sitting at home watching television with his wife when he began to feel a bit of discomfort in his back. 

“Then I coughed up some pink foam,” Altman, who has a history of chronic heart failure, recounted. “And I told my wife not to panic, but to call 911 because I have probably another 3-4 minutes left of breathing. So the ambulance came and picked me up and brought me to Winter Haven Hospital.”

On Feb. 13, he was back at the hospital. This time, it was to thank the team at the hospital’s Bostick Heart Center for what happened when he got there. 

Altman joined five other heart patients during Winter Haven Hospital’s inaugural Heart Recovery Reunion. The event featured patients whose care have been impacted especially by the Impella heart pump. 

Their stories of recovery and hope were a testimony to the comprehensive cardiac care found at Winter Haven Hospital and BayCare. Two other system hospitals – Morton Plant and St. Joseph’s– provide a variety of complex cardiovascular services that are supported by BayCare.

The Impella device is the world’s smallest heart pump and is often used on patients whose cases might be too severe for stent insertion and too high-risk for open-heart surgery. Impella temporarily assist the pumping function of the heart to ensure blood flow is maintained to critical organs.  When support is no longer needed, the cardiologist will remove Impella before the patient leaves the hospital.

Altman, 69, told the assembled crowd that once he got to the hospital, the following days were harrowing. He went into cardiac arrest eight times in nine days before the cardiac care teams were able to stabilize him. Altman’s lungs needed to be drained of fluid and he received a stent in his heart. He is awaiting a heart valve replacement.

 A man stands at a podium and speaks to a crowd.
Mike Bissett shares his story of heart recovery with the audience at the Heart Recovery Reunion.

Mike Bissett, 58, a Polk County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant, also shared his story at the reunion. 

“On May 5, 2023, I decided to go for a run. I made it about a mile in and that is honestly the last thing I remember.” 

Bissett was rushed to Winter Haven Hospital, where he spent 12 days recovering from the heart attack he’d suffered during his run. 

“Even when I was going into surgery, I felt calm because their professional confidence just instilled such calmness in me so that I really wasn't worried about the procedures that I was going through.”

Bissett had two stents inserted, and the team inserted an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).

In the audience at the reunion was not just friends and family of Bissett, Altman and the other patients. Their physicians listened as they shared their experiences and their gratitude. 

“It was very rewarding to hear these stories,” said David Dodd, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at WHH who cared for several of the patients who shared their testimonies that day, along with Zaheed Tai, DO. “Normally, we get to see them through the procedure and often in the office after a month or so, but we don't make them keep coming back to see us because they've got a plethora of other specialist appointments.”

Dr. Dodd noted that there is great support from all over the hospital in handling these life-threatening cases from respiratory care, environmental services, the food and nutrition teams, nurses from the ICU and operating rooms, and so on. The Bostick Heart Center has consistently earned the highest rating from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons and is an area leader in offering minimally invasive heart procedures as well. 

“They’ve all embraced the mission,” he said. 

The reunion helps bring all that teamwork back into focus, Dodd said. It can also allow the patients to experience closure after their traumatic experiences. 

Altman agreed. “Listening to other people’s testimonies made it real to me and made me feel more blessed. These experts, they care. They know what they're doing, and they do what they know.”