When it comes to matters of the heart, patients of NorthBay Heart & Vascular Center are served by a team steeped in military know-how, from one of NorthBay Healthcare’s long-time cardiologists and a nurse practitioner, who both served in the Air Force, to two lieutenant colonels currently assigned to David Grant Medical Center at Travis Air Force Base.
They share their mission to serve, not just the U.S. Air Force, but heart and vascular patients throughout Solano County.
Experience Offers Bigger Picture
Cardiologist Jeffrey Breneisen, M.D., was driving onto Travis Air Force Base the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when he heard a radio report that a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Back then, he was the cardiologist on call at David Grant Medical Center. It took a long time to get on base, but once he did, his colleagues were in a state of shock. By then, a second crash into the south tower had been reported. One resident had a brother who worked in one of the towers. Then came the crash at the Pentagon. And then the crash in Pennsylvania.
“I remember a lot of us trying to get calls through. We finally learned he was OK,” said Dr. Breneisen. But the husband of another colleague was killed in the Pentagon crash. “Most of us from cardiology, ICU, emergency and nursing were already assigned to a Critical Care Air Transport team,” he recalled. “We were put on alert that night but they never deployed us.”
It was a scenario Dr. Breneisen saw several times during his military career. He’d already earned his bachelor’s degree in pre-med from Notre Dame University and was just starting medical school at the University of Illinois when he decided to join the military. He did his officer’s indoctrination at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
He was stationed at Travis Air Force Base for his residency, and then moved to San Diego at the Naval Medical Center for a fellowship. He returned to Fair- field three years later. After separating from the military in 2002, he worked as a civilian contract cardiologist, later went into private practice and then joined North- Bay Healthcare.
His time in the military gave him a unique perspective, he said. “You not only study medicine, but you’re aware of world events and the bigger picture. You deal with patients who have traveled the world to serve our country. Many of them are heroes. They’ve made sacrifices. They’ve deployed during times of war and have served while being away from their families,” he said. “It’s an honor taking care of these people.”
From Technician to Practitioner
One week after she turned 18, Rebecca Parker enlisted in the U.S. Navy and found herself at boot camp in Orlando, Florida. She was no stranger to military life. Her father served in the Army (Special Forces) and instilled in her the core values of honor, courage and commitment from a very early age. “The Navy just reinforced them,” said the nurse practitioner for the NorthBay Heart & Vascular Center.
“The military gave me a sense of pride to always be the best I can be with anything I do,” she said, noting that it has carried over to her career in health care.
She worked as a civilian at David Grant, helping establish their cardiothoracic intensive care unit in 2010 and joined NorthBay Healthcare in 2017. She often encounters patients with military backgrounds.
“I have a very special place in my heart for veterans,” she said. “They often have difficult problems and unique needs. I feel they should be held in high regard for the sacrifice they made. We have freedom in this country because they were willing to fight for it and continue to protect it.”
Serving is in His Blood
Lt. Col. Shea Pribyl, D.O., comes from a long line of family members who have served in the military. “It was in our blood from the beginning,” said the David Grant Medical Center cardiothoracic surgeon. “It was always a chance to serve our country and to be a part of something greater than oneself.”
Dr. Pribyl started in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 1996 and served four years after college in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Then he “crossed over to the Blue” and joined the Air Force in medical school. He has been with the Air Force for 14 years, and started in partnership with NorthBay Healthcare in January of 2017.
“My mother was a nurse and was an inspiration to pursue medicine,” he recalled “Even as a boy, when someone would get hurt on the playground, I would spread my hands and say, ‘Everyone stand back. My mom is a nurse.’ Oddly enough, people always stepped back and let me lead. That leadership and passion has helped to guide me through life and has fortunately given me the opportunity to draw from a culmination of similar, mixed experiences leading me toward medicine.”
Mentors, he said, inspired him to pursue cardiothoracic surgery. “The pathophysiology and anatomy of the chest always fascinated me,” said Dr. Pribyl. “I was motivated by the constant mental and physical stimulation of the procedures —a high-level marriage of hands and mind —all in the context of being able to impact people’s lives in a concrete way. I wanted to be part of a profession that is constantly innovating and rewarding results.”
Mom’s Stories Inspired a Doctor
Lt. Col. Curt Wozniak, M.D., knew from the time he was in high school that he wanted to be a doctor. His mother, a hospital unit clerk, regaled him with heroic stories of physicians and he thought: I could do that.
So he headed off to the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, the Department of Defense medical school. “I thought it would be a great way to get good a medical education and serve my country at the same time,” he said. “Since then, I’ve been very fortunate to have received excellent training 100 percent supported by the Department of Defense, in both military and civilian hospitals.”
Based at David Grant on Travis Air Force Base, he started in partnership with NorthBay Healthcare in 2016. The partnership not only allows him to bring his patients to NorthBay hospitals, but it also allows him to be on call for cardiac emergencies.
The extra hands-on opportunities help keep the surgeon’s skills in tip-top shape.
Mentors, he said, inspired him to pursue cardio- thoracic surgery. “They perform some of the most technically demanding procedures every day. They were also extremely dedicated to their patients.”