William Werking, 72, was standing in his garage looking at photos of his friends and family that he had hung on the wall. As he was recounting the fond memories, he felt a sudden snap in his chest. He waited, assessing his feelings, and as he started to sweat, he realized that he was having a true health emergency.

He dialed 911 and the operator said that they were going to send a medical helicopter to transport him to a large hospital in Pittsburgh. William knew that time was critical now, so he requested that they transport him by ambulance to WHS Washington Hospital, as he lived just five minutes away.

That was a decision that Werking believes may have helped save his life. He was rushed into surgery for a distressed aorta. Mr. Werking remembered asking “how bad is it doc?” His surgeon, Dr. Haybron was honest with him. His chances of surviving the surgery were 20/80.

“I said great that’s good. Then Dr. Haybron told me no, the 80% is the bad part, but don’t worry you are going to be ok,” says Werking. Dr. Haybron was honest about the statistical chances of his survival, but he was also confident in his and his team’s ability to save his patient.

Dr. Haybron’s team had just finished a previous surgery. But despite being rushed from one long surgery to the next, likely exhausted and hungry, they were committed to using their skills and training to save Mr. Werking’s life.

He woke up the next day in the ICU, having survived a complicated seven-hour surgery to repair his aorta. He saw the sun shining through the window. His wife sat in a chair in the corner and staff were surrounding his bed.

Mr. Werking’s relief at being alive was quickly replaced by doubt, as he took notice of the hoses down his throat, multiple IV’s and the beeping of machines that were helping him stay alive.

“I said for a nanosecond, I am never going to survive this,” he recalled.

“But then I realized again, people have fought hard to keep me alive, now I need to do my part and listen, learn, and commit to getting better. Quitting was not an option.”

Although, there were many moments of struggle, Mr. Werking never did quit. This moment marked the beginning of a physically and emotionally difficult recovery.

He remembers that after waking up, a woman he did not recognize came in to check on him. She seemed very comfortable and familiar with his wife. This was Stacey Rush, Director of Patient Experience. She had stayed by his wife’s side, reassuring her, checking on her, and providing updates during the lengthy surgery.

“What she did was her job, yes. Maybe. But the time she invested while comforting my wife and the compassion she showed was truly amazing. Even after normal work hours, Stacey still came up just as much to keep my wife informed. She assured her that the team is doing all they can possibly do and that I was going to be okay. And praying,” says Mr. Werking.

The next step – becoming mobile again, which seemed like an insurmountable task.

“The physical therapy team showed great patience for someone who kept saying ‘No, no, I can’t do it!’,” he says.

Even during the times where he didn’t have faith in himself, the team’s faith in him never wavered. There were moments when Mr. Werking didn’t think he could take one more step, but they assured him that they had never let anyone fall and they wouldn’t let him fall either.

When it was time to leave WHS Washington Hospital and move to a rehabilitation center, Mr. Werking was very hesitant. But Jeff Barr, the social services coordinator, convinced him that he was ready for the next step in his recovery. After 14 days at the rehabilitation center, he was cleared to go home and to continue his physical therapy at WHS three times a week. He credits Teri and Maria, two cardiac rehabilitation therapists at WHS, with his progress, noting their support, knowledge, and patience.

According to Mr. Werking, it’s the people that make the difference in healthcare. He has experienced a hospital stay within other health systems but at WHS, it was different. Every single team member was respectful, compassionate, and highly skilled.

“All medical issues don’t always have great news, but if you have chosen this field to help others with a true gift you are given, use it,” says Mr. Werking. “You will win more battles than not, and that is life.”