By Anees J. Razzouk ’82, Chair, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, LLUSM
At the turn of the 21st century, cardiothoracic (CT) surgery, as a career path, was one of the least popular subspecialties among surgical residents. The tide has now shifted and demand for CT surgeons is on the rise. For several decades, Loma Linda University (LLU) has been a leader in the training of CT surgeons through a traditional pathway: three years of specialty training after completion of an accredited general surgery curriculum. Currently, over 50 candidates apply yearly to the one residency position in CT surgery at LLU. Over the next few years, the department will be working on a new curriculum to offer an alternative integrated six-year pathway to CT surgery for students straight out of medical school.
The news is good: cardiac surgery is not dead; it is, however, a rapidly evolving field. Loma Linda University was the first health care system in the Inland Empire to establish teams of CT surgeons and cardiologists who, through collaboration, provided catheter-based therapies to adults and children with severe valve disorders. Recently, the heart valve team of interventional cardiologists and CT surgeons, Rosario Floridia, MD, David Rabkin, MD, Anees J. Razzouk ’82, and Bruce Toporoff, MD, celebrated the 500th successful transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR) at LLU.
The heart failure team consisting of fellowship-trained cardiologists, CT surgeons, and specialized coordinators offers life-saving implantable ventricular assist devices to patients with end-stage, irreparable heart disease. For over 25 years, LLU remains the only institution in the region that provides state-of-the-art durable mechanical circulatory support as a bridge to transplantation or destination therapy. Under the leadership of Joshua S. Chung ’07 and with strong support from LLUH, an adult ECMO service has been recently established at LLUMC to salvage patients with acutely decompensated cardiac or respiratory failure.
The congenital and pediatric heart surgeons, Timothy Martens, MD, PhD, and Dr. Razzouk, along with skilled pediatric cardiologists, specialized anesthesiologists, and intensivists, provide 24/7 cardiac care to neonates and children with cardiac malformations. The pediatric ECMO service, established over a quarter-century ago at LLU Children’s Hospital and currently under the directorship of Dr. Martens, offers acute support for children in cardiorespiratory crisis.
Salman Zaheer, MD, chief of the thoracic surgery division, continues to provide services at LLU and the VA Hospital. With the addition of Nguyen Minh Le, MD, the thoracic team offers minimally invasive surgical interventions using robotic and thoracoscopic techniques for the treatment of benign and malignant chest lesions.
Other surgical professionals in the department who bring exceptional talent to the team and contribute to the education of students, residents, and fellows are the physician assistants. O. Howard Shattuck, PA-C, has been an outstanding surgical instructor and a strong partner for over 40 years. Joshua Gysbers, PA-C, possesses unique patient care skills and has excelled in the minimally invasive techniques of arterial and venous conduit harvesting.
During the past five years, several clinical and basic science research papers were published after presentations by faculty, students, and residents at regional, national, and international meetings. A landmark article summarizing 30 years of neonatal heart transplantation at LLU and the long-term survival of recipients recently appeared in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery.
The department remembers, with deep sadness, the huge loss of two of its pioneers: Ellsworth E. Wareham ’42 (2018) and Leonard L. Bailey ’69 (2019). Their innovative contributions to the field of cardiac surgery will live for generations to come.
In collaboration with Nan Wang ’83, his wife, Sandy, and numerous former trainees, the department has started the Leonard L. Bailey Fund for an endowed chair in his honor. The chair will continue Dr. Bailey’s legacy of excellence in patient care and will promote innovation in research. The department is very grateful for the generosity of alumni, friends, colleagues, and patients and will continue to match dollar-for-dollar all contributions in order to complete the funding of this very worthy chair.
Looking into the future, the department is excited to move its clinical service to the new hospital in 2021. The cardiac surgery team also hopes to join with vascular surgery and cardiology in one institute of excellence within one Loma Linda.
Dr. Razzouk is a professor of cardiothoracic surgery and of pediatrics. He is married to Teresa L. Thompson ’90, and his passions include patient care, teaching, and love for family.
CARDIOTHORACIC SURGERY FACULTY SPOTLIGHTS:
Joshua S. Chung ’07
“Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life.” – Confucius
Dr. Joshua S. Chung counts himself lucky that God led him to his career path in cardiothoracic surgery, a field he loves.
Dr. Chung grew up in Ohio, where he and his three sisters were inspired by his late father, Dr. Ho-Young Chung, to be physicians. He completed his undergraduate degree at Andrews University, majoring in biology, and earned his medical degree at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Dr. Chung then returned to Ohio, where he completed his general surgery residency at Riverside Methodist Hospital. During his surgical training, his exposure to cardiac surgery made him fall in love with the field. He then went on to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he completed his cardiothoracic surgery residency. Dr. Chung thereafter completed an additional year at the Cleveland Clinic, where he focused on heart transplantation, mechanical assist devices, and advanced cardiac surgery.
After completing his fellowship, Dr. Chung returned to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he joined the heart failure team that led the United States in heart transplant volume from 2015 to 2019. In August 2019, he joined Loma Linda University Health as director of adult heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support. Dr. Chung is also an assistant professor and vice chair of the department of cardiothoracic surgery.
Outside of medicine, Dr. Chung enjoys spending time with his wife, Anna, and their two children, Shiloh, age 5, and Malachi “Kai,” age 2. Dr. Chung also has a special passion for sports and dogs.
Nguyen Minh Le, MD
Applying advanced technology to patient care has been a strong interest for Dr. Nguyen Minh Le. He is a thoracic surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive surgery using the robotic platform.
Dr. Le joined the faculty as an assistant professor at Loma Linda University Health in 2018, bringing his expertise in robotic surgery of the chest to the department of cardiothoracic surgery.
Dr. Le grew up in Southern California in the South Bay. He completed his undergraduate education at University of California, Santa Barbara, majoring in biological sciences, and then pursued his medical degree at Drexel University College of Medicine. He went on to complete his general surgery residency, cardiothoracic surgery fellowship, and advanced robotic thoracic fellowship at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in New York. He has a passion for benign and malignant diseases of the chest. Since starting at Loma Linda University, he has been an integral part of advancing the esophageal cancer program in collaboration with surgical oncology.
In his spare time, Dr. Le loves to spend time with his wife, Dr. Jennifer Minami, assistant professor of psychiatry at Loma Linda University Health. They both enjoy traveling around the world with their two children, Aubrey, age 4, and Ethan, age 2.