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Doctor Witnesses Monumental Changes throughout Career
By Lois Thomson

Dr. Neil Hart of Washington Health System has witnessed myriad changes in the field of cardiology since he started his practice more than 40 years ago. "I came along at a time when there was no heart catheterization, no stents or balloons, few pacemakers and no bypass surgery; so during my career I had a chance to see the development of all these lifesaving techniques," he said. "I was lucky enough to study at the Cleveland Clinic for a period of time when they were just developing and refining cardiac catheterization and heart surgery; and then when I started in practice, these techniques were making giant strides.

"So it was a fun time to be in medicine, and especially in cardiology, where they made such wonderful advances in helping people." Undoubtedly this was a driving force in his choice of career. "The thought of trying to help people – that was the main reason I went into medicine, I really enjoy taking care of patients and interacting with families."

Dr. Hart became attracted to the field as a youngster, when his father – a family practitioner – took him along on his hospital rounds on weekends. "I'd sit in the hospital lobby and afterwards he would make house calls, and then he'd take me out for a soda. That's how I first became interested in medicine (maybe it was the sodas). My older brother is also a physician."



Dr. Neil Hart of the Washington Health System – who has seen much advancement in cardiology since the beginning of his career – said that when he was in medical school, "the treatment for a patient with an acute heart attack was bed rest with sedation in a dark room. They wanted the patient to be at complete rest, with minimal stimulation. Patients were kept in the hospital literally for weeks. Today, if somebody is having a heart attack, they put them in a helicopter and fly them to a hospital with a cardiac catheterization lab, perform a heart cath, and open up a blocked blood vessel. Typically, the patient will be discharged in a few days and start rehab. It's changed completely." As for new advancements, he talked about coronary stents that are biodegradable, aggressive treatment of peripheral arterial and venous disease, and miniature pacemakers. "You have no pacemaker in your chest, no wires, just this little disk that's delivered by a catheter and implanted right into the wall of the heart. In addition, there are numerous new powerful drugs for the treatment of heart and vascular disease. All sorts of changes and progress are being made."



As for why he focused on cardiology, Dr. Hart said that as he rotated through different areas during his externship in medical school, he was fascinated by the complexity of the heart and the epidemic of heart disease. "I liked it from the first time I was involved."

He also appreciates the fact that it's a specialty where numerous disciplines – anatomy, physiology, physical diagnosis and pharmacology – can be utilized in one area. "Additionally, you have the possibility to prevent myocardial infarction with emergent cardiac catheterization inserting stents and balloons; and for people who have established heart disease, you can treat their risk factors and hopefully prevent further problems."

Dr. Hart spent his first several years of practice in Cleveland, but moved to this area at the urging of his friend, Dr. John Frazier. "John and I did our cardiology fellowship together at Emory University in Atlanta. John eventually returned to Washington, Pa., but we stayed in close touch with one another. I had been at the Cleveland Clinic for about eight years and I thought I'd enjoy private practice. John encouraged me to come to Western Pennsylvania so I finally did, and I haven't regretted it. We went into practice 32 years ago and never dreamed we'd have this much success."

So much success, that for the past three years – 2012, 2013 and 2014 – Dr. Hart has been voted one of the region's "Best Doctors in Cardiology". When learning of the honor, he said he was "very surprised, and very humbled to get the award, because in Western Pennsylvania there are a tremendous number of good hospitals and good physicians."

Dr. Neil Hart is definitely one of them.

For more information, call (724) 225-6500, or visit www.whsdocs.org.

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