The three cardiologists at the V.I. Cardiac Center on St. Croix haven’t missed a beat since cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Moses deGraft-Johnson resigned in July from performing open-heart surgeries.
The center’s director, Dr. Kendall Griffith, and its two other two cardiologists, Dr. Dante Galiber and Dr. Michael Potts, have continued to save lives and hearts since deGraft-Johnson’s departure.
While the ability to do those types of surgeries was nice, there weren’t enough patients to meet demands said Griffith.
“Open-heart surgery was only a small component of our services, but that hasn’t changed the level of care we provide for our patients,” Griffith said. “Most patients do not require the type of emergency care that having a surgeon here would require.”
While the surgeon’s departure left a vacancy, the cardiologists will just go back to doing things the way they did before, which was to refer patients to other facilities for surgery.
“The guidelines by the American College of Cardiology generally require 200 patients per year; and I think last year we only had seven patients who elected to have open heart surgery,” Galiber pointed out.
However, they all seemed to agree that having a surgeon on the island gave them a sense of completeness, and they do want to explore other possibilities that might allow for surgeries to be done in the future.
But for now, Galiber said, they have their hands full with the other procedures, including pacemakers, defibrillators, heart catheters, angioplasties, and much more.
Potts added, “We can really do all cardiovascular procedures here with the exception of electrophysiology, which is really very specialized.”
The three doctors work at the center in the mornings, and then at their private practices in the afternoons. When they aren’t working, they go into the community and do educational outreach, teaching people how to avoid heart disease.
Despite all the outreach, the center is still seeing a high number of new patients, and all three agreed that while business is flourishing, their ultimate goal is to see numbers of sick patients decreasing. They want to move toward preventing heart ailments, rather than simply just treating them.
“The sheer volume of cardiovascular disease in the territory is amazingly large; the number of new patients astounds me,” Potts said.
When asked what the major risk factors of cardiovascular disease are, the three agreed that diabetes tops the list in the territory, which is known for having high numbers of diabetic patients. Hypertension and sedentary lifestyles are also risk factors for heart disease, along with smoking.
Although it’s hard for the doctors to quantify the increase in revenue since they opened the center’s doors in 2008, they have noticed is that they are getting more patients from across the Caribbean.
“We’ve had some patients trickling in from the British Virgin Islands and have noticed a number of snowbirds who wait for their procedures to be done when they get to St. Croix,” Potts said.
Regarding the center’s growing clientele, head nurse Lori Trotman said, “It’s a one-stop shop, and I think it makes it easier for the staff and the patients to have everything in one location.”
Clearly, all those involved truly believe in the center’s potential.
“Our … goal is to become the most trusted patient family health care system in the Caribbean by 2020—not only as a hospital but as a fully integrated system,” said VICC spokesperson Xaulanda H. Simmonds-Emmanuel.