How a Visit to a Telehealth Kiosk Helped Save Ron Wuaten’s Life
The Queens resident was commuting to work when he started gasping for air.
Ron Wuaten was on his way to work on Wall Street in March when he suddenly found himself gasping for air as he climbed a set of subway stairs.
“I felt like I was drowning,” Ron, 37, recalls. “I had to stop several times just to catch my breath.”
Ron, who lives in Queens, made it to his job as head of technology at a financial firm, but he was still struggling to breathe once he got to his desk. Alarmed, he reached out to a friend’s wife, a nurse, and described his symptoms. He told her that he had trouble breathing after walking up a flight of stairs from the subway. She urged him to have his lungs checked and suggested he go to an urgent care clinic as quickly as possible.
Instead, he headed to the nearest pharmacy, stopping to rest on a fire hydrant along the way. He soon arrived at a Duane Reade at 40 Wall St., a block away from his office, thinking he would consult with a pharmacist or physician. The drugstore had an NYP OnDemand kiosk, which offers telemedicine with board-certified emergency medicine physicians. Once inside, Ron made his way to the kiosk in a private room in the back of the store. Instructions on the screen prompted Ron to use the medical devices attached to the kiosk to take his vitals, including a pulse oximeter to measure the oxygen in his blood, a blood pressure cuff, and a forehead thermometer.
“It was super easy,” says Ron, who then waited briefly to “meet” with the doctor.
A few moments later, Dr. Rahul Sharma, emergency physician-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, popped up on the video screen.
Dr. Sharma recalls that Ron was smiling and, for a moment, Dr. Sharma thought he would be dealing with a cold or rash, like a typical urgent care visit that the kiosk is designed for.
But when Ron described his shortness of breath, Dr. Sharma grew concerned. He performed a virtual physical examination, which included asking Ron to put his arms on his hips and take deep breaths so he could check his breathing pattern. After examining him through the video monitor, Dr. Sharma urged Ron to go directly to the emergency room.
“I had a clinical gut feeling that we needed some additional tests and further evaluation,” Dr. Sharma says. “He’s a young guy who has never had any symptoms like this before, and it was alarming that he couldn’t walk a few steps without having to stop.”
Dr. Sharma called his colleagues in the emergency department at nearby NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital to let them know Ron was on his way. The staff was prepared when he arrived.
“They said, ‘Oh, you’re the one that just saw Dr. Sharma. Let’s get you in,’” Ron recalls. “And they slapped one of those little wristbands on me, and it sunk in that this might be a little more serious.”
What happened next underscored just how serious his condition was. Ron was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and tachycardia (an abnormally high heart rate). He was hospitalized for three days while nurses and doctors ran a series of tests — X-rays, EKGs, a CT scan, and ultrasounds.
“Those three days were a crazy ride, but the staff was amazing,” Ron says.
Ron admits that he hadn’t been to a doctor in about nine years, since he’d “felt fine.” His diagnosis was a wake-up call, however, and he now sees several doctors, including a cardiologist, primary care physician, nephrologist, pulmonologist, and sleep specialist.
“Everybody puts everything else in life as a priority, and health always takes a back seat. Now, I see things a lot differently,” he says.
A New Chance for a Healthy Lifestyle
Ron is no longer in heart failure but still faces some issues, including dizzy spells and fatigue, on his path to recovery. His nephrologist is working with him to improve his kidney function.
The most drastic change Ron has made is to his diet. By changing his eating habits, he dropped 40 pounds. He is also free of headaches and the migraines that used to plague him.
“I now watch what I eat,” Ron says. “Prior to [this experience], I was just eating the worst things possible. I think I walked into the hospital at a weight of 210 pounds. I walked out at around 200 pounds, and now I’m down to around 170. No more sodas, no more juice. I think the weight loss is because of the complete 180 from where I used to be with my daily intake of food, juice drinks, and sodas.”
His family and friends have supported his “180” — while he was in the hospital, his co-workers cleaned out the unhealthy food at his desk (including a $100 order of beef jerky that arrived the day he visited the NYP OnDemand kiosk) and replaced it with chia seeds and other nutritional foods.
“The jerky was gone by the time I came back to work,” he says with a laugh.
Ron says he now chooses salads for lunch and eats grilled foods, seafood, vegetables, and “no more ‘extra cheese, extra bacon.’”
“It’s been a complete game changer for me,” he says.
While he doesn’t yet have the energy for strenuous exercise, he makes it a priority to get up from his desk at work to walk at least 30 minutes each day, and looks forward to regaining his strength and incorporating weight training and more cardiovascular exercise into his life. Ron admits he cheats once in a while, mainly when visiting his parents in Pennsylvania, where his mother makes spicy Indonesian food.
He laughs: “You’ve got to eat Mama’s cooking, right?”
Ron is also actively keeping an eye on his health with the help of portable devices that monitor blood pressure and heart rate, helping him know when he should take it easy or get up and move around.
“I’m into gadgets, so anything and everything I can use to monitor my health, I’ll go out and get it,” he says.
Ron’s journey to better health has had its ups and downs, he says. “But when you hear good news, you feel a lot more vibrant and alive. I’m getting back to that point of energy and motivation.”
He is grateful he found the NYP OnDemand kiosk that day — and for Dr. Sharma, whom he calls “Dr. Kiosk” — as well as for the care he received at NewYork-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital.
“I don’t know what would’ve happened,” he says. “That kiosk visit may have saved my life.”
To consult with a board-certified emergency medicine physician about non-life threatening illnesses and injuries, connect via video chat through NYP OnDemand Urgent Care app.