The Heart of West Virginia

February 28, 2017

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The Heart of  West Virginia

Written by Katlin Swisher
Photography by Tracy Toler

Vinay Badhwar, M.D., executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute.

West Virginia is ranked highest in the nation in the prevalence of heart attacks among adults at 7.8 percent and second highest in the prevalence of angina or coronary heart disease, according to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute is working to combat these deadly statistics by bringing the most advanced therapies, procedures, clinical research and technologies in cardiovascular care to West Virginia.

“In a short time, we’ve built an outstanding program that rivals the best heart and vascular programs at some of the best-known academic medical centers in the United States,” says Vinay Badhwar, M.D., executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute. “In most cases, hospital-based heart and vascular programs are purely clinical-based programs. In our case, however, we’ve aligned our clinical mission of providing outstanding care with the academic and research missions of West Virginia University (WVU) to create a truly unique program that is built on a foundation of excellence. At WVU, we are all working toward the goal of improving the health of all West Virginians.”

The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, which opened in June 2016, is moving into it’s new, $300 million, 10-story tower on the WVU Medicine main campus in Morgantown, WV. The institute provides a comprehensive array of innovative heart and vascular services and specializes in repairing and replacing diseased heart valves using minimally invasive and robotic techniques, complex interventional and structural heart cardiology procedures and advanced limb-preserving vascular techniques to reverse the chronic effects of peripheral artery disease. The services include cardiac surgery, cardiology, vascular surgery, interventional radiology, thoracic surgery, cardiac anesthesia and advanced imaging—all under one roof.

“The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute is ostensibly a hospital within a hospital,” says Badhwar. “Here, you will find a comprehensive team of caregivers—from cardiologists to cardiothoracic surgeons, anesthesiologists and interventional radiologists—working closely together as a team to address the most complex heart and vascular problems. Most cardiovascular programs fall short because their doctors and caregivers are not completely aligned like we are. Our model is one of the compelling reasons that brought me, and our whole team of outstanding physicians, here.”

The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute is also providing a variety of procedures that cannot be found elsewhere in West Virginia or in the broader region. For example, for certain complex patients, the institute is one of 25 centers worldwide—and one of just six in the United States—to use a minimally invasive robotic procedure to implant the Tendyne transcatheter mitral valve. The bioprosthetic valve is used to combat mitral regurgitation, a condition that occurs when blood leaks backward through the mitral valve each time the heart’s left ventricle contracts.

Also known as leaky mitral valve, the disease is debilitating, progressive and life-threatening, and left untreated, it could lead to atrial fibrillation, pulmonary hypertension, stroke or heart failure. Mitral regurgitation is the most common valve disease in the United States, affecting one in 10 people 75 and older. The procedure is used when open heart surgery is too risky. The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute’s first mitral valve patient, a 79-year-old male, made a full recovery.

Another example is heart surgery for atrial fibrillation, or AFib, using the robotically assisted Cox-Maze procedure. This procedure is the surgical ablation approach with the greatest long-term success in treating AFib. Currently, no other provider in the tri-state region provides robotically assisted full maze procedures. The institute has brought several other innovative therapies to West Virginia for patients with AFib, including the Watchman and Amulet devices. To continue expanding its services around the state in order to treat more patients with life-threatening conditions like this, the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute is opening additional outpatient clinics to complement those in Fairmont, Elkins, Grafton and Bridgeport in the coming year.

Leading the Way

Internationally recognized as a master cardiac valve surgeon and a team builder with extensive cardiovascular health care leadership experience, Badhwar is the visionary behind the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute.

“I have been interested in medicine since I was a child,” says Badhwar. “To be able to use one’s passion to change the lives of patients; to be able to rapidly bring someone back from very poor quality of life and, in some unfortunate cases, near death and to be able to physically restructure a heart and rapidly change that to as close to normal as possible is tremendously rewarding. I feel honored and privileged to be part of one of the best professions anyone could have.”

Badhwar brings 15 years of professional and academic experience in cardiovascular medicine and surgery to the institute. He began his career by completing his surgical residency at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and then went on to the University of Michigan for a fellowship in advanced cardiac surgery, including heart transplants and valve surgery. He spent 10 years in the Tampa, Clearwater and Orlando, FL, areas, where he worked with several national organizations, served as the chief medical advisor in cardiovascular services for multiple hospitals and held an academic appointment at the University of South Florida. He then went on to serve as the chief of cardiac surgery at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Presbyterian and director of cardiac surgery for the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute for the last five years.

While at UPMC, he also served as director of the multidisciplinary Center for Mitral Valve Disease, co-director of the Center for Atrial Fibrillation and the director of minimally invasive and robotic cardiac surgery. Badhwar holds several leadership positions in national cardiothoracic surgery and cardiology organizations, including the American College of Cardiology, American Association for Thoracic Surgery, Society of Thoracic Surgeons, European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, Heart Valve Society and International Society for Minimally Invasive Cardiothoracic Surgery. He is a national expert in complex mitral valve repair, atrial fibrillation surgery, minimally invasive valve surgery and robotic surgery, and he regularly lectures worldwide in the areas of mitral valve repair and atrial fibrillation surgery.

Badhwar was not looking for an opportunity to leave UPMC when WVU Medicine first crossed his radar. “I had great colleagues and a wonderful position at UPMC,” he says. “My motivation for coming to WVU Medicine is the same as why we are all here: to provide the best health care to West Virginians. It is so compelling that everyone is committed to improving health care in the state, from the senior leadership to the faculty and students to the greeters at the hospital door.”

Since his arrival in June 2016, Badhwar has quickly embraced the importance of serving the people of his new home. “What I found unique about this place is learning all about what it means to be a West Virginian,” he says. “Everyone is focused on the goal of helping people here. One of the very unique and compelling things about coming to WVU has been the leadership of School of Medicine Executive Dean Clay Marsh, West Virginia University Health System President and CEO Albert Wright and WVU President Gordon Gee and the support of Chief Medical Officer Judie Charlton. That core leadership of WVU Medicine had the vision, insight and foresight to invest heavily in cardiovascular services. That investment enabled us to hire the people we needed to hire, bring in new technologies and build a state-of-the-art institute that will rival the best in the country.”

Healing Hearts, Expanding an Economy

The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute is not only making an investment in improving the health of West Virginians, but it is growing and strengthening the West Virginia economy as well. As a result, West Virginia University Health System has grown to become the largest employer in the state.

“Part of the major investment made to cardiovascular services in West Virginia includes a multitude of jobs,” says Badhwar. “The new tower on the Morgantown campus and the corresponding health care jobs are a substantial injection into the West Virginia economy. The total scope of the program will likely quadruple over the next five years compared to what it was before the institute was established.”

The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute’s five-year goal is to provide all the cardiovascular services necessary for West Virginians and offer them the most advanced technology available. “We’ve started on that journey very quickly, and we are delighted at the level of embrace across the state for our progress,” says Badhwar. “As we continue to grow and expand, we will be bringing in new treatments and services West Virginia has not had before.”

Over the next five years, the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute plans to establish access points in all corners of the state for health screenings, preventive health care and cardiovascular medicine to ensure patients can receive basic diagnostics and speak to practitioners that can help with their medications, blood pressure and any major ailments.

“To achieve our core mission, we want to provide accelerated and augmented access to health care,” says Badhwar. “That access is not just for those in the Morgantown vicinity but across the state. We really believe in this core mission from Beckley to Parkersburg to Wheeling to Martinsburg—all corners of the state. We want patients to know they can be cared for in one of our great facilities around the state or come to Morgantown for advanced therapy. We want all West Virginians to feel they can find someone from WVU to help them.”

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. Jessica Pennington
    April 11, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    My husband and I am coming to WVU for aortic stenosis valve replacement. Dr. Badhwar is his doctor. The magazine I have does not contain the article. Can I get a copy of the magazine that has this article in it? Thanks Jessica Pennington

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