When I moved from the large, bustling Jersey City Medical Center to a small rural community hospital, Lykes Memorial in Brooksville, in 1981, my colleagues in New Jersey thought I was crazy.
"You will be back soon, so we will keep your job here," they said.
Yes, Hernando County was still underdeveloped with just one small hospital, no shopping malls and a population of 50,000 or less. The hospital and the small group of physicians did a remarkable job with whatever facilities available; however, many seriously ill patients had to be transferred to Tampa.
Plagued by self-doubt and indecision, I briefly toyed with the idea of going back to my old teaching hospital. But I noted that my services were much needed here and the community did indeed lay out the welcome mat. Soon, I adapted to the new surroundings, trying to build my cardiology practice and become part of the growth of this county. I am most grateful to Dr. B.R. Raju, the first cardiologist of Hernando County, who encouraged me all the way.
Just one week into my practice, I had a patient with frequent fainting episodes and a very slow heartbeat. I decided to implant a permanent pacemaker, something I did without any sweat before.
An ICU nurse suggested I send the patient out of town because Lykes didn't do that kind of procedure. I persisted. Fortunately, it was accomplished without any complication. Rose, the 82-year-old recipient of the in-house pacer implant, was indeed happy that she didn't have to go elsewhere. Soon permanent pacemakers became a regular procedure and the hospital graciously bought us the first portable C-Arm which facilitated not only the pacer implants, but also other surgical procedures needing X-ray screening in the operating room.
Later, one of my patients with chest pain posed a different challenge. He had to be transferred by helicopter to Tampa General Hospital where he later underwent a triple vessel coronary bypass surgery. Often, the transfer itself puts a lot of strain on the families. Sometimes, the helicopter pilot had to wait out storms. Those times we prayed and did our best. Sometimes, we didn't even have enough beds in the small ICU and during winter months the hospital was on bypass because of a bed crunch.
A second state-of-the-art hospital, Oak Hill HCA Hospital, opened in 1984, just in time to take care of the burgeoning population on the west side of the county. And in 1994, Spring Hill Regional opened on the south side of the county. When a full-fledged cardiac unit with cardiac surgical capabilities opened at HCA Bayonet Point Hospital in the late 1980s, we were delighted.
That was the tipping point for cardiac care in this area. Soon coronary stenting became available and saved a lot of patients from a debilitating open heart surgery — a true miracle. In the early 1990s, cardiac catheterization units opened in Brooksville Regional (the former Lykes Hospital) and Oak Hill HCA and in 2006 we celebrated a true milestone — the first open heart surgery in Hernando County at Oak Hill HCA.
Currently, there are chest pain and stroke centers where patients can get state-of-the-art treatment for heart attacks and strokes. Even hypothermia or cooling the body, the latest technology in organ preservation in acute emergencies like cardiac arrest and stroke, has just arrived. Needless to say, other medical fields also made significant advances during the past three decades.
Part of the tremendous strides in medical progress in these communities should be attributed to the influx of skilled, young physicians who moved from northern states in search of the Florida sunshine in the early 1980s.
And the public embraced all these innovations and new concepts wholeheartedly. Thanks to the many health seminars and community education programs, the people have become more conscious of preventive care instead of running to the emergency room for crisis care.
At present, our hospitals are comparable to any of their top level institutional peers around the nation. I feel so privileged to have been part of the tremendous progress in health care delivery in Hernando County.
Dr. M.P. Ravindra Nathan is a retired cardiologist living in Hernando County.