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Heart Health Month

New Scripps cardio chief is stent expert

A seven-story building that will open its doors in 2015 will be home to a state-of-the-art heart health care institute that will transform Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla and make it a destination for heart patients.

Paul Teirstein, chief of cardiology at Scripps, has been named the medical director of the Scripps Prebys Cardiovascular Institute, which will combine the heart health programs at Scripps and Kaiser Permanente in one location.

Teirstein, who went to medical school at the same hospital where he was born, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, grew up in Manhattan.

He is a well-known name in the cardiology field with numerous awards and expertise in medicated stent procedures.

When he joined Scripps in the late 80s, there was just one catheterization lab and two physicians. Today, there are seven doctors and numerous support staff who perform nearly 2,000 stent procedures in five labs.

Paul Teirstein

The new institute will allow for more than 3,000 procedures and proximity to consulting clinics. Being built at a cost of $456 million, it will be capable of housing more than 100 patients, several operating rooms and a centralized research lab.

Teirstein trained at top notch institutes at Harvard, Stanford and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in cutting-edge medical technology, but chose Scripps when he finished his fellowships.

“It was my first job and only job. I had other choices, but I preferred San Diego. It was not the weather, but Scripps was world-class and I had the chance to head a new program in interventional cardiology,” he said.

The son of a lung physician and a dance teacher mother who continues to teach at age 83, Teirstein comes from a family of hard-working people with Russian roots.

That work ethic propelled him to tap back-to-back opportunities at the top medical facilities in the United States. Once he graduated medical school in 1980, he was a resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass; for his fellowship in cardiology he went to Stanford University.

He then spent a year at the Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas City, Mo., before moving to NIH to learn how to use new tools such as the “rotorooter” to grind plaque from arteries.

“I worked really, really hard and got good letters of recommendation. When you begin doing research early on, you tend to stand out,” Teirstein said.

He recalled that his time at Harvard taught him how to be a doctor, to put patients first and think about them all the time.

He trained in interventional cardiology back when it was still a new field that opened up minimally invasive ways to repair the heart.

Once Scripps expanded its catheterization labs, this allowed his team to advance from doing procedures for mild to moderate blockages to helping more patients.

“Now we can do more, not just arteries, but also heart valve, patch up holes in the heart, and put stents in the arteries that go to the brain so we can prevent strokes,” he said.

Teirstein is very involved in the Prebys Institute as it takes shape, bringing architects and prominent members of the cardiology community together.

“We’re creating the largest heart health program in California, not just in San Diego,” he said.

One focus of the new facility is personalized care. The physicians’ consulting offices will be close to the surgical facilities, so that doctors can do morning rounds, meet out-patients and be accessible for in-patients throughout the day.

Scripps currently attracts cardiologists and fellows from afar who come each year to watch and learn while expert surgeons perform complex procedures. It will hold this event, called "Coronary Interventions," in October this year.

Teirstein also put in place a fellowship program with six fellows who train in interventional cardiology, and nine to 12 doctors in general cardiology.

Speaking about outreach efforts at Scripps, he said while the hospital does a lot of community outreach, he tends to stay focused on his clinical and research work.

“I’m like a plumber opening up clogged arteries, so you can’t do it in the community, only in the hospital,” he laughed.

Outside of work, Teirstein has picked up two new hobbies. He is learning to salsa dance and is a newly minted pilot.

Why airplanes?

“It’s very challenging and there’s a steep learning curve.”

So is heart surgery not challenging enough?

“It is, but I think it’s important for people to have more than one outlet, to have hobbies that refresh their minds.”

Nagappan is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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