Paul Pearson, MD, PhD, Cardiovascular Surgery at NorthShore Cardiovascular Institute, enjoys a good challenge, which is what ultimately drew him to medicine, first as Illinois’s youngest paramedic and later as a surgeon.
Here, Dr. Pearson tells us what he finds most rewarding about his vocation and how his experiences as a parent of children with heart issues help him better understand and communicate with his patients:
What inspired you to go into
medicine?I have always enjoyed the excitement and challenges that characterize certain aspects of the medical field. I grew up watching the 1970s television show Emergency!, and was inspired to become a paramedic, as it turns
out the youngest paramedic in Illinois, at a time when the concept of pre-hospital advanced life support was just taking hold. Not only was I able to work through college but I was immersed in the excitement of critical situations where advanced training,
technology and quick, informed decision-making could save lives.
Why did you choose cardiac surgery? I have always thought that cardiac surgery expressed all of the best elements of medicine—advanced technology, highly trained
and skilled practitioners, decades of scientific inquiry and investigation—all applied to some of the most challenging, life-threatening health problems.
What do you find most challenging about your work?Any heart surgeon
will tell you that what keeps them from sleeping at night is the expression, “What we don’t know, we don’t know.” It’s when a critical situation occurs because of the inevitable gaps in our knowledge. This is where the years of
study, training and experience all need to come together to produce a good clinical outcome.
What do you find most rewarding? For me, the most rewarding aspect of surgery is the post-operative visit with the patient. By
that time, the patient is feeling better, recovery from surgery is well underway and the patient has usually been able to reflect on the dangerous journey through which they came out safe. For some patients, it is summarized as, “Thank you for
saving my life.”
How does your personal experience as a father of children with heart defects affect the way you practice medicine and connect with your patients? Two of my boys were born with ventricular septal defects
(VSDs). I vividly remember the first time their mom called me in tears and told me that the pediatrician had detected a heart problem in our newborn son. There was a rush of emotions, followed by questions and “what ifs.” I frequently
recall those emotions and still remember what I needed to hear from my son’s doctors. This helps guide me as I talk with patients in consultation today.
Why do you think heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S.?The human body was designed to work, be active and challenged both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, we have transformed into a society of inactivity, at both the physical and mental level. This has resulted in dramatic consequences on
our cardiovascular system, body and, I also think, soul.
What do you think is the most important thing we can do to care for our hearts?It is really very simple. Be active. Push yourself. Sweat! Have your diet be one of moderation.
And for those who are physically able, jogging in the springtime rain is great for the heart and soul.
What inspires you outside of medicine?I love to read good books, listen to classical music played by a skilled orchestra lead
by a gifted conductor. Of course, I thoroughly enjoy spending time with my children. However, to reflect about life, nothing beats a summertime walk on the North Shore at twilight.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and
women. Each year, approximately 600,000 people will die of heart disease, nearly half of them women. And yet many still believe that heart disease is a man’s disease. It’s not.
There are some possible differences, however, between men and
women when it comes to heart disease. Brian Shortal, MD, Cardiologist at NorthShore, discusses these differences and the heart disease
risk factors that are the same for everyone:
Age. Men are considered at cardiovascular risk starting at 40. Women, on the other hand, are considered at cardiac risk starting at 50. That does not mean that women under the age of 50 have
no risk for heart disease, so any symptoms should not be disregarded. The incidence of heart disease between men and women equalizes around 65, and studies then show that women actually begin to surpass heart disease events in comparison to men.
Symptoms. Typically, men exhibit more classic cardiac symptoms, including pain across the chest that radiates down the arms, back and jaw, and shortness of breath. Women might display more atypical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, dizziness
and syncope (fainting/temporary loss of consciousness). In fact, the most common symptom in women over 80 is not chest pain but shortness of breath.
Risk Factors. The risk factors are the same for both men and women. The major
risk factors for coronary artery disease are hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, family history of heart disease, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. If you think you might be at risk, see your physician for more information.
you know your risk for heart disease?
A small but mighty organ, your heart accomplishes amazing feats with every single beat. This American Heart Month, get to know your heart better.
NorthShore University HealthSystem explains the inner workings of your heart and
cardiovascular system and shares simple tips to improve your heart health in our heart health infographic.
Click on the image below for our full infographic of heart health facts:
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. for both men and women. Genetics, tobacco
use, family history, obesity, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, stress and diet all contribute to this alarming statistic. Some heart-healthy changes are easier to make than others, but finding a balanced diet that appeals to the entire family, while also
possibly lowering your risk for heart disease, might be easier and more enjoyable than you think.
Many studies have shown that the rates of heart disease as well as certain types of cancer, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
disease were lower for those living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, researchers have been able to determine that diet played a significant role in keeping the community healthy and living longer. The fundamental components of that diet
are known as the Mediterranean diet plan.
Philip Krause, MD, Interventional Cardiologist at NorthShore, discusses the benefits of a Mediterranean
diet plan and what makes it so great for your heart:
Focuses on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. On a typical American plate, meat is the star. On a Mediterranean diet plate, meat plays second fiddle to fresh fruit, vegetables,
beans and whole grains. When the focus on the meal shifts toward fresh fruits and vegetables, the result is a diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants and fiber.
Puts the salt shaker away. Excessive salt consumption can raise your blood
pressure, which may damage the arteries leading to your heart. And there’s no doubt about it: Americans consume too much salt. The Mediterranean diet diversifies the spice rack, favoring spices and herbs over salt.
Cuts down on red meat.
Red meat is sidelined in favor of proteins that contain healthy fats like fish, poultry and nuts. Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can be a very beneficial part of your heart healthy diet plan.
Makes olive oil the main source
of fat. Just say no to butter. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat and this type of fat may help bring high cholesterol levels in the right direction. It also may help regulate insulin levels in those suffering from type 2 diabetes.
for a glass of red wine. This is a great perk for the older adherents of the Mediterranean diet. When consumed in moderation (one four-ounce serving per day), red wine can be beneficial to your heart health by reducing LDL cholesterol levels and increasing
HDL cholesterol levels.
Limits portion sizes and cuts the carbs. Just because the Mediterranean diet plan is healthy doesn’t mean recommended foods can be consumed in unlimited quantities. Watch your portion sizes as you
would with any diet or dish. If both weight loss and heart health are goals, limiting portion sizes along with carbohydrate intake—reducing the consumption of bread, potatoes, rice by 50%—can markedly assist in weight loss.
the Mediterranean diet! Do you? What are your favorite heart-healthy recipes?
With 25% of the American population suffering from heart related problems, it's extremely important for everyone to carefully monitor their health, and take the necessary precautions to avoid heart disease. The most common ways to prevent
heart disease include exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, going to the doctor frequently and avoiding smoking. However, there are ways to prevent heart disease that may surprise you! From snuggling to laughing, and even steering clear of traffic,
there are plenty of unusual ways to practice a healthy lifestyle. Click on our health infographic
below to view our 10 surprising ways to improve your heart health.
NorthShore Hearts (#NSHearts) healthy eating and so should you. The importance
of diet on the health of your heart can’t be overstated. A balanced diet contributes to one’s overall health and wellness, including maintaining weight, but certain foods can significantly improve your heart’s health while others can damage
it. Know the difference and show your heart some love by eating heart healthy foods.
Jason Robin, MD, Cardiology at NorthShore, shares
a few of the best and worst foods for your heart health:
You’re the Best!
You’re the Worst!
Find out what heart healthy tips and stories NorthShore hearts this American Heart Month by following #NSHearts on Facebook and Twitter.
Smoking is more than just a bad habit; it’s the leading cause of preventative death worldwide. Each year, close to 400,000 people in the U.S. will die from smoking-related diseases like lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.
of National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, NorthShore University HealthSystem has created an infographic that explores the harmful effects of smoking and the big health benefits of quitting. Make
today the day you break a deadly habit and begin to look forward to many healthier years ahead.
Click on the image below to be directed to the full infographic.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in 2013 that it plans to label partially hydrogenated oils (PHO’s),
which are the primary dietary source of trans fats, as not generally recognized as safe for use in food. This relabeling of trans fats is just the first move in a process that will likely lead to a ban on trans fats in the U.S. food supply.
Trans fat first entered the American food supply in 1911 in the form of Crisco shortening. Fairly early in its history, preliminary studies show that trans fats could be more harmful than other fats. Later studies confirmed this finding, indicating that
trans fat contributed to heart disease. While their presence has already been greatly reduced in the food supply, trans fats can still be found in many processed foods, like frozen pizzas, microwave popcorn, baked goods, margarine and store-bought icings.
Philip Krause, MD, Director for the Section of Cardiology at NorthShore Skokie Hospital, explains why doctors have long urged their
patients to stay away from trans fats:
Notably, manufacturers have made steps to reduce fat levels in many foods and products. Since 2006, after which food labels reported trans fat content, intake of this substance has dropped significantly.
It is hoped, after the FDA finalizes its preliminary determination, PHO’s would be considered as “food additives” and could only be used with prior authorization. The primary goal and hope is that with better consumer education and these changes in product
and food manufacturing, Americans can look forward to much healthier life ahead.
Whether it's part of your daily commute to work or simply your prefered mode of transportion for weekend errands, cycling is a great alternative to driving. When done safely, it's an easy way to include a little extra exercise each day and also do your part
to help protect the environment.
The health benefits of biking are many, from boosting your immune system to lowering your risk of heart disease, but it's important to wear proper safety gear and always follow the rules of the road. Our latest NorthShore infographic covers the basics of
two-wheel travel: health benefits, bike safety statistics and more. Click on the image below to view the full
“This is something that happens to 80-year-old men,” Karin Rigg thought as she was wheeled into NorthShore’s Evanston Hospital for an angioplasty. A busy mom of four young children, Karin Rigg suffered a heart attack at only 44—a year after giving birth
to her youngest child. She never thought she was at risk for a heart attack. Yet, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in women 55 and younger.
Successful efforts have been made to raise awareness that heart disease is a very real and very serious problem for women but more can still be done. Studies show that only a little more than half of women would call an ambulance if they thought they were
having a heart attack but more than 75 percent would call for a husband or partner.
Karin Rigg shares her experience as a young heart attack survivor and the changes she made to her life to improve her heart health. She also tells us why it is so important for women to start making their own health needs a priority.
How do you protect your heart? Do you make your health a priority?