Dr. Harp performs the first open heart surgery and Sister Jo Mary is his surgical nurse.
Submitted by HSHS St. John's Hospital
If you or a loved one has a heart condition, you want the best care possible.
Whether it’s an emergency or a planned procedure, HSHS St. John’s Hospital and the Prairie Heart Institute (PHI) provide nationally recognized heart care close to home while using the latest technology and the least-invasive procedures.
St. John’s Hospital has been committed to cardiovascular excellence in Springfield for more than 50 years. It all began in 1963 when cardiologist Dr. Paul E. Smalley and cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Robert Harp partnered with the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis to buy a heart-lung machine.
That same year, St. John’s Hospital opened the first dedicated cardiac catheterization lab in Illinois outside of Chicago. Just two years later, in 1965, Dr. Harp performed the first open heart surgery in downstate Illinois at St. John’s Hospital.
St. John’s heart doctors performed the first CABG procedure (coronary artery bypass graft) in 1976. This was the same year the Cleveland Clinic performed its first CABG procedure. By this time, the reputation of the heart program at St. John’s was well established.
Drs. Harp and Smalley were very committed to their patients. During the first years after a major heart surgery, Dr. Harp would stay the night with the patient the first night, and Dr. Smalley would stay the second night.
“When doctors and doctors’ families weren’t leaving town for cardiac care and surgeries, they were staying in Springfield,” Dr. Paul Smalley once said. “That’s when we realized that we had done something great.”
By this time, the heart program at St. John’s had developed a national reputation for excellence and grown in terms of size and patient reach. Drs. Smalley and Harp began looking nationwide for the best-trained cardiologists and surgeons to take the program to the next level. This is when St. John’s began developing plans to build a heart institute, and cardiologist Dr. James Dove moved from New York to Springfield to practice medicine.
The program that started with two physicians is now home to 70 cardiovascular physicians, 42 advanced practice providers and serves nearly 200,000 patients across 45 communities in Central and Southern Illinois.
Tragically, Dr. Harp didn’t live to see his plans come to life. He and his children were killed in a plane crash in 1976. By then, the program had become its own best advertisement and was destined to live on in his memory.
Between the years of 1979 and 1982, Dr. Dove, Dr. H. Weston Moses, Dr. Frank Mikell, and Dr. George Taylor joined forces to form a cardiovascular practice that would later be known as Prairie Cardiovascular Consultants.
“Another thing that attracted heart specialists to Springfield was that it was a relatively underserved area at the time,” Dr. Taylor once said. “Before it became a heart center, people in Central and Southern Illinois with serious heart problems often left the area to get care. So, if there was a time for good heart medicine to develop here, that was it.”
In the early 1980s, Prairie recognized the need for cardiovascular care in the smaller communities and began their outreach program.
It was this outreach program that prompted Prairie physicians and St. John’s to begin researching clot-busting drugs. Research indicated clot-busting drugs such as tPA could markedly reduce damage from heart attacks, so Prairie’s doctors began educating physicians in the surrounding communities on how to use these drugs. Prairie and St. John’s lead the country in introducing this important therapy, and doctors soon began sending patients who needed sophisticated heart care to Springfield.
“The past provides us with direction. The future provides us with opportunity,” Dr. James T. Dove once said.
In 1998, the Prairie Heart Institute at St. John’s Hospital opened its doors. The doctors and hospital administration decided it was time to build a center that patients could go for all of their heart and vascular services. The 165,000 square foot building included educational centers, preventive medicine spaces, and procedural spaces — one center of excellence to meet all cardiovascular needs. This facility provided Springfield with a fresh, innovative approach to cardiac medicine, education, disease prevention, and recovery.
“The Prairie Heart Institute is a world-class heart care center that began to take shape in the 1980s,” Dr. Dove once said.
The first floor of PHI is home to a state-of-the-art cardiac rehabilitation facility and one-on-one nutrition counseling. The James T. Dove Conference Center hosts educational functions and meetings. Patients are seen by cardiologists and surgeons on the fifth floor, which also is home to all cardiovascular diagnostic services and 36 exam rooms. Cardiac surgery services occupy an entire floor of the facility as does cardiac catheterization services.
“Prairie Cardiovascular and St. John’s Hospital have inextricably been intertwined for 35 years,” said Dr. Greg Mishkel, executive medical director of the Prairie Heart Institute. “St. John’s is the pioneer of cardiovascular care in Springfield.”
For instance, in 2012, St. John’s was the first hospital in downstate Illinois to perform a transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure (TAVR), a visionary alternative to open-heart surgery in individuals who need a diseased heart valve replaced. In fact, Prairie physicians also performed a double TAVR procedure in January 2016, replacing two aortic valves at the same time.
Also, PHI at St. John’s received the first Accreditation for Cardiovascular Excellence (ACE) in Illinois for its cardiac catheterization lab.
While the physicians and specialists at PHI have earned some of the nation’s most prestigious honors and awards, the team believes success is best measured one patient at a time.
“Everything we do is built on a heartfelt commitment to care that inspires us to be at our best when our patients need us most,” said Charles L. Lucore, MD, MBA, president and CEO of St. John’s Hospital.
For more information about the Prairie Heart Institute at HSHS St. John’s Hospital visit www.st-johns.org/heartheroes.
Photos courtesy of HSHS St. John's Hospital
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