Joyce Brandman and vascular surgeon Alan Williamson, M.D., in the hybrid suite.
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY EISENHOWER HEALTH
Joyce Brandman’s father suffered a heart attack at the age of 39. She recalls “treatment” was bed rest, with doctor’s orders to avoid excitement. A second heart attack killed him at the age of 55.
Brandman’s husband, Saul, suffered a heart attack at the age of 45. He underwent bypass surgery and survived to the age of 82, when chronic obstructive pulmonary disease combined with a weakened heart claimed his life. Brandman recalls that when the possibility of a second bypass surgery had been discussed, doctors said, “It is a long sleigh ride for maybe a short journey.”
She herself carries a pacemaker within her chest — the result of chemotherapy impairing her heart.
“I got up one day and could not walk across the room without being out of breath,” she recounts. “I thought I was having a heart attack.”
Given these experiences, it is little wonder that Brandman chose to focus her philanthropic contribution to Eisenhower Health on cardiology.
Although Los Angeles has been her primary and Rancho Mirage her secondary residence, Brandman possesses family roots in the desert. Her grandmother lived in La Quinta, and her brother-in-law was a physician at Eisenhower Medical Center. She remembers when the hospital opened and when it began performing open-heart surgeries.
When she told Eisenhower Health administrators that she wanted to give them money to honor the legacy of her husband — whom she credits with “teaching” her about philanthropy — but was not sure for what need, they presented her with options.
“I looked at them and said, ‘How do you choose one over the other? I can’t. I am going to do the whole package.’”
The “whole package” included expansion of Eisenhower’s cardiovascular surgical center, upgrades to the electrophysiology lab, electrocardiogram equipment, and, most importantly, a hybrid operating suite that opened in 2019. Only 100 of 6,100 hospitals in the United States boast such suites.
“The hybrid suite makes it possible to do advanced cardiac care more efficiently, effectively, and safely,” says Andrew Frutkin, M.D. “It allows a multidisciplinary team of physicians and support services to deliver minimally invasive therapy through endovascular means and also surgical means. The hybrid suite allows us to do this because of its excellent imaging platform and the space to accommodate ancillary equipment and staff.
“From 2015 into 2019, we were doing minimally invasive valve replacements in the cardiac cath lab. And for the first four years of our transcatheter aortic valve replacement program, we were working in the cath lab,” he adds. “We made combined endovascular and surgical approaches to the heart work, but it was more challenging with limitations of space and imaging equipment. In 2020, we treated 122 patients with TAVR, which represents a 20 to 25 percent increase from the previous year. That success and growth of the program is in part due to having a resource like the hybrid suite.”
“It’s magnificent,” Brandman says of the room she made possible. “I really didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. They had shown me pictures; but when I saw the size and dynamics of it and all that they can do, I was taken aback. I am proud, and I know that many people are going to benefit from it.”
Frutkin credits Eisenhower’s cardiac group with being on the forefront of technology and innovation in accessing arteries besides the femoral artery typically used for catheters.
“We had a patient with such significant arterial plaque calcification that we had to access the left carotid artery in the neck to deliver the transcatheter aortic valve replacement to the heart,” Frutkin says. “We were able to perform the whole procedure in less than 45 minutes. The patient was left with a small incision in the neck and a new heart valve and was able to go home the next day.”
Brandman not only funded creation of the hybrid suite, but also established an endowment for its maintenance and future upgrading. Perhaps the greatest testament to her belief in Eisenhower Health, however, goes beyond her financial contribution.
“I will be moving back to L.A. [where she has business, family, and friends], but will keep all of my doctors here and have all of my testing done here,” she proclaims. “I think Eisenhower offers much more than they do in L.A. I am not saying the doctors aren’t equipped in L.A. Clearly they are. But the care you get here is very hands on, and I am never going to give that up.”
Brandman urges others, especially the younger generation, to step up to the philanthropy plate.
“It isn’t how much you give. It’s that you care. And you give because it will come back to you in another way. It doesn’t have to come back directly to you. It could be someone in your family or somebody else,” she says. “It makes my day when I can say, ‘I reached out and I helped and maybe saved a life.’”
The Gift of Life
Greg Renker received the best gift in December 1998 — one he shares not only with his family, but also with the entire Coachella Valley.
After experiencing a shortness of breath, the entrepreneur went to Eisenhower Desert Cardiology Center for a treadmill test. That same day, he wound up in a cath lab for stent implants to open blocked blood vessels. When a serious complication arose, doctors rushed him to an operating room for open-heart surgery.
“What I went through required people from all over the hospital instantly. If the exact same thing happened today, I wouldn’t have to leave the most state-of-the art room in the valley,” Renker asserts, referring to the hybrid suite in the Saul and Joyce Brandman Cardiovascular Surgery Center.
Renker almost lost his life when his heart stopped beating during that emergency procedure 22 years ago.
One life-threatening event would be enough for any family to overcome. But the Renker household faced a second one in 2003 when Greg’s wife, Stacey, contracted a rare bacterial infection that kills 66 percent of its victims within 48 hours.
Grateful for their lives, they donated money in 2003 for the Renker Wellness Center on Eisenhower Health’s main campus. The center offers exercise, stress management, education, and support services for patients diagnosed with heart or lung disease. They subsequently funded the Greg and Stacey Renker Pavilion, a 24-suite, inpatient wing combining world-class medical care with luxury private accommodations.
“Any of us associated with Eisenhower are just amazed at its excellence,” Greg says. “For Stacey and me, it’s even more remarkable, because that institution saved our lives, contributed to the better livelihood of our children, and gave us an opportunity to give a little bit back to the community with the recognition that every day Eisenhower is doing that for others.”
The Renkers’ involvement with Eisenhower Health continues today. On top of financial support, Greg served as Eisenhower’s chairman of the board from 2014 to 2020 and now chairs the nominating committee to shape the board’s future.
Greg and Stacey Renker donated money for the Renker Wellness Center.