They are the heart and soul of any hospital, listening for the constant drum of heartbeats that signal life in a person when every second counts. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, killing one in four people. Some of the leading heart facilities in the country are located in Tampa Bay, offering world-class healthcare and earning top accolades for surgical advances and cardiac care. We introduce to you to three top heart doctors who are transforming heart care in our community, from breakthrough surgical procedures to clinical trials that treat cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Richard Morrison, Jr. | Board Certified Cardiothoracic Surgeon | Pepin Heart Institute/Florida Hospital Physician Group
Whether he is treating patients in Tampa or in a remote area of Haiti, Dr. Richard Morrison, Jr. will tell you it takes a village.
Morrison, a board certified cardiothoracic surgeon at Florida Hospital’s Pepin Heart Institute, is one of the leading surgeons in the country performing some of the most innovative techniques in valve replacement surgery and minimally invasive vascular surgery. That includes the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, or TAVR, a procedure that treats patients with severe aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aortic valve in the heart.
“With some surgeries, you take out the diseased organs. With cardiovascular surgery, you have to fix it and work immediately to save a person’s life,” Morrison says.
Morrison credits these latest technological breakthroughs with saving hearts, along with the advance of statin medications, such as Lipitor and Crestor, changing diets and increasing exercise, to help more people take better care of their health. Undergoing heart surgery can be daunting for anyone, but Morrison says patients often tell him his bedside manner puts them at ease. He credits the staff at Pepin with playing a crucial role in the recovery process.
“I can do the perfect surgery, but you need so many others to help take care of the patient. That ‘it takes a village’ concept makes a difference,” he says.
His advocacy for lifesaving health care also takes Morrison to remote villages in Haiti annually. As a member of Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Temple Terrace, he has trekked on mission trips to the third-world country for the past five years. On a recent visit, Morrison and the medical team treated 2,300 patients over four days, providing basic health care and dispensing medications to treat chronic conditions.
“It makes you appreciate what you have when you help these people. If we can make a difference in their lives, that’s what it is about.”
Dr. Angela Turner | Bayfront Health Medical Group
Since she was five years old, Dr. Angela Turner says she knew she wanted to be a doctor. Growing up in Indiana, she was involved in science and medicine programs at school and sought out learning experiences in the health sciences. Turner shadowed a nursing program during middle school and volunteered at a children’s hospital in high school. While attending medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Turner found her path in medicine.
“I explored other specialties while in medical school – obstetrics and gynecology, dermatology and pediatrics. Then I got the chance to follow a cardiologist around and see how he worked with patients. He became my mentor, and that’s when my interest in cardiology started,” she explains. “It’s a challenging field and keeps you learning.”
Turner was fortunate to find a mentor to guide her in the male-dominated field of cardiology. While the number of female physicians continues to rise, fewer than one in 10 of medical students choose cardiology. The hours are long, and many women are deterred by the lifestyle, with grueling on-call hours and busy practices that leave little time for families.
“To be a woman in medicine is tough,” she says. “You have to be confident in yourself and your abilities.”
Turner says that things are changing in the field, and she was able to find her balance by marrying cardiac care with academics. For the past five years, she was the attending cardiologist specializing in cardiovascular disease with several hospitals in Tampa and a professor at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine. Turner was involved in several leading clinical trials, studying the use of blood thinners, stress testing and heart catheterizations on patients. Last September, she joined Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, who also established a new partnership with USF. She looks forward to building the teaching component between the two institutions, but says cardiovascular disease prevention remains her real passion, especially advocating better health care for women.
“Women tend to put others before themselves, especially kids, their spouse, and work. They may encounter symptoms and ignore them, such as fatigue, shortness of breath and sweating. Listen to your body – if something doesn’t feel right, have it checked out.”
The best prevention? “Know your numbers,” she says. “Blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index – these are the numbers to know for a healthy lifestyle and a healthy heart.”
Dr. Benjamin Mackie | Tampa General Medical Group
You might say Dr. Benjamin Mackie is a patient’s lifeline to a healthier heart. As part of Tampa General Hospital’s transplant cardiology team, he helps care for critically ill patients who are waiting for a heart transplant. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing database, there are approximately 265 adults currently on the wait list in Florida.
With a focus on advanced heart catheterizations and mechanical circulatory support for patients, Mackie implants heart pumps or ventricular assist devices (VADs) as a bridge to transplantation. These tiny, battery-operated heart pumps help patients recover so they can undergo a successful heart transplant when a donor becomes available.
Mackie says he always enjoyed helping people and was fascinated with medicine as a child. After graduating from USF’s Morsani College of Medicine and completing his residency at Emory University in Atlanta, an opportunity arose to join Tampa General Hospital’s top-ranked heart transplant program.
“They [TGH] was looking for someone and they took a bet on a guy who just completed his fellowship. They welcomed me,” he says.
Mackie is proud of the commitment to patient care at TGH, one of the busiest heart transplant programs in the country. It is only one of seven hospitals in Florida that conduct heart transplants, averaging more than 40 transplants per year with an average wait time just over three months. That’s one of the shortest wait times in Florida and the nation.
Mackie says seeing patients regain their health and quality of life after a transplant is one of the most rewarding parts of his job. He remains in touch with many of his patients, including a woman who was diagnosed with a form of cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, during her pregnancy. After successfully delivering her son, she sought treatment at TGH and later underwent a successful transplant. The families still exchange Christmas cards and photos regularly.
“Caring for these patients who are the sickest population and seeing how a heart transplant changes their life is a great experience. If I had to do it all over, I wouldn’t do anything different,” he says.
For more information about each heart doctor and medical institution visit:
Pepin Heart Institute/Florida Hospital Physcian Group www.floridahospital.com/tampa
Bayfront Health Medical Group www.bayfront.com
Tampa General Medical Group www.tgmg.org