Specialty: Thoracic Surgery
Hospital affiliation: Swedish Medical Center
Why did you choose to specialize in thoracic surgery?
When I was a first-year med student, I happened to do a summer rotation with a very energetic and thoughtful thoracic surgeon. The first time I went to the operating room with him, he made the entire operating room be very quiet and listen to the sound of the patient breathing. I thought it was unbelievable that we could take out a section of cancerous lung, reinflate the lung and then listen to the patient breathe.
As I got further on in my career, I really gravitated to patients who had cancer, with lung and esophageal presenting a challenge.
Among the conditions you treat is gastroesophageal reflux disease (known as GERD)—how common in this?
If you look at studies around the United States, they estimate upwards of 30 million people suffer from acid reflux; that is 10 percent of the population. It is probably even higher than this, because people don’t really talk about it; they go to the pharmacy and get some Tums and treat it themselves.
I’ve read that Swedish is pioneering a new surgery to treat GERD.
Maybe 60 percent of people suffering from acid reflux have good control of their symptoms with medications, but that means 40 percent are not well controlled with drugs. Maybe 1 percent of those people have symptoms that they think are bad enough to get surgery. Up until May of last year, the common surgery, where you wrap the stomach around the bottom of the esophagus, hadn’t changed since the late ’50s–early ’60s.
The LINX device (a small ring of magnets wrapped around the esophagus) involves better control of reflux than pills, is less invasive than the traditional surgery, and the magnets will, theoretically, last a lifetime.
Was there a moment when you knew you had gone into the right field?
I think you get that reinforcement as a physician on a daily basis. Yesterday, one of my longtime esophageal cancer patients was on her way back home to Alaska, and they stopped by just to say hello. She is a five-year survivor of a very advanced cancer and was very emotional and wanted to thank us for saving her life.
What’s your favorite part of your day?
Going home and seeing my wife and my kids [who are 5 and 3 years old] still is the best part of the day. The privilege of being entrusted with the care of patients is always a reminder that duties exist elsewhere.