Letter from the Chairman

Letter-EllenbogenFriends and Supporters,

Welcome to the summer issue of The Beat. In this edition, we have much to celebrate at the VCU Pauley Heart Center.       

In the realm of basic science, we congratulate Dr. Rakesh Kukreja, Dr. Anindita Das, and Dr. Fadi Salloum on their recent National Institutes of Health grants; Dr. Alex Tan, Dr. Jose Huizar, Dr. Mohammed Quader, and Salvatore Carbone on their grants received from the American Heart Association; Dr. Edward Lesnefsky on the renewal of his Veterans Administration Merit award; and Dr. Antonio Abbate and Dr. Salloum on their investigator-initiated studies supported by industry partnerships.

This year we’ve been busy with community outreach, including participating in the AHA’s Richmond Heart Walk and Bollywood Goes Red events and a forum at Lewis-Ginter Botanical Gardens. Dr. Jordana Kron and Dr. Phoebe Ashley, who share a passion for women’s health, led our first Women’s Heart Health Symposium in February. In April, we enjoyed gathering with our faculty and administration, along with some of our most ardent supporters, for the annual consortium.

Finally, I am excited to share with you a feature story on our nurses, who have received Beacon Awards and other accolades for their high levels of performance. Working with them on a daily basis, and having also had a family member recently in their care, I can’t imagine a better trained, more dedicated group.

At the Pauley Heart Center, teamwork is essential in the care of our patients. Many of them suffer complex medical conditions. Just as our researchers, physicians, and nurses are key players, so too are our donors who support our work here. Thank you for being an important part of the Pauley Heart Center team.


Kenneth A. Ellenbogen, MD

Chairman, Division of Cardiology

Pauley Active in Heart Month Events

February brought a whirlwind of activities for the VCU Pauley Heart Center during the American Heart Association’s Heart Month. On Feb. 5, VCU Health served as the Presenting Sponsor of the AHA’s “Bollywood Goes Red” benefit, which brought Indian food, music, and entertainment to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The “Go Red” theme continued on Feb. 6, when VCU Health employees wore red to work to help raise awareness about women’s heart disease and stroke.  

Additionally, the Pauley Heart Center held the first annual Women’s Heart Health Symposium (see article, p. 9) and physicians took part in a lecture series at Lewis-Ginter Botanical Gardens, covering new treatments for atrial fibrillation, women’s heart health, and peripheral artery disease. Also during the month, VCU cardiologists answered questions on Twitter and Phoebe Ashley, MD appeared on Virginia This Morning.

“It was a busy month but a rewarding one,” says Chairman of Cardiology Kenneth Ellenbogen, MD. “At events such as our symposium and lecture series, audiences were very engaged and appreciated the information that we provided.”

Becker’s Top 100 Heart Center

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, VCU Pauley Heart Center is one of the top providers of cardiovascular healthcare in the nation. In October, Becker’s selected the VCU Medical Center as one of the “100 Hospitals with Great Heart Programs 2015-16.” Other honored hospitals in Virginia were Henrico Doctors Hospital in Richmond, Sentara Norfolk General Hospital-Sentara Heart Hospital, and Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.

Celebrating “Top Docs”

top-doc-logoCongratulations to all of the VCU Pauley Heart Center physicians selected by their peers as “Top Docs 2016” by Richmond Magazine!  

The top vote getters in their categories were:
Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D.
Cardiac Electrophysiology,
Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D.
Cardiac Surgery,
Zachary Gertz, M.D.
tie for Cardiology: Interventional,
William Moskowitz, M.D.
of CHOR at VCU Pediatric Cardiology,
Anthony Cassano, M.D.
Thoracic Surgery
and Mark Levy, M.D.
Vascular Surgery

• Other winners were
Jordana Kron, M.D.,
Michael Hess, M.D.,
Richard Cooke, M.D. of VCU
Pauley Heart Center and
Scott Gullquist, M.D. of CHOR at VCU.


To see the entire list, please visit http://richmondmagazine.com/best-of-richmond/top-docs/top-docs-2016

Support Group Helps ARCTIC Survivors

As the meeting time draws near, a small group gathers around a conference table in the VCU Health Pauley Heart Center. The attendees, who are of a variety of ages and backgrounds, are survivors of cardiac arrest—an experience that few of them remember but one which has greatly impacted all of their lives.

Advanced Resuscitation Cooling Therapeutics and Intensive Care Program Coordinator Michelle Gossip, BSN, RN, started the support group in late 2013 because she began to see a pattern in her cardiac patients who were brought back from death through resuscitation and hypothermia. “It grew from a constant awareness, as I would see these patients prior to discharge, that there were so many long-term needs that weren’t being met by a clinical visit.”

A grant from the MCV Hospitals Auxiliary helped her start the monthly program, which provides a supportive environment in which individuals can share their challenges and successes. The group is safe, confidential, and “allows sharing in an environment of like-minded and like-experienced individuals,” she says.



While initially many are simply grateful to be alive, “oftentimes, patients need to go home and reintegrate in their daily routine before they recognize some of the long-term issues of anxiety, depression and persistent short-term memory loss. “It’s a unique patient population with unique needs.”

Family members are also welcome to attend the sessions. Many of them are working through their own emotional turmoil related to the cardiac arrest, having often provided life-saving CPR or witnessed the death and revival of their loved one. “When survivors and family members both participate in the group, it allows for a variety of perspectives to be shared that can open up the opportunity for emotional healing,” she says.

The support group is part of a comprehensive ARCTIC post-cardiac arrest program at VCU Medical Center.

“Michelle helps them understand where they are and helps them through it,” says Pauley Heart Center Nursing Director Kathryn Perkinson, MSN, RN, CEN. “Through our ARCTIC program, we see people across the continuum and we support them.”

In Memoriam

At this year’s consortium, a moment of silence was held in memory of two special friends who had recently departed.  

Walter Craigie, who passed away March 3, “was one of the MCV campuses’ most impactful advocates,” says Kenneth Ellenbogen, MD. An investment banker and public servant, Craigie was also an active volunteer, serving as a trustee of the MCV Foundation. With his wife, Beese, he supported everything from Nursing to Pharmacy to Parkinson’s and the Massey Cancer Center.  In 2000, the couple founded the Craigie Endowment for Cardiology Scholarship Awards at VCU to benefit the scholarship of professional staff.

“Over the years, the two had grown that fund and we are so appreciative of their generosity to the Pauley Heart Center,” says Ellenbogen. “Mr. Craigie’s impact is widely felt as he advocated each year on behalf of the Medical Center and VCU to the General Assembly.”

John (“Jack”) Zehmer, Jr., died Feb. 7. An architectural historian in Richmond for many years, he served as the city’s first senior planner for historic preservation. He later directed the Valentine Museum, the Historic Richmond Foundation, and the Capital Region Office of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and helped lead efforts to expand historic districts, restore such architectural treasures as the Virginia Executive Mansion and the Wickham-Valentine House, and save Old City Hall.

In addition to his preservation work, he was also committed to the Pauley Heart Center and many other local medical charities. His wife, Fran, is continuing his philanthropic legacy. “The Zehmers have supported the Pauley Heart Center steadfastly as annual donors and have been great advocates,” says Ellenbogen. “We thank them for their leadership in giving, and we will certainly miss Mr. Zehmer.“

2016 Pauley Heart Center Consortium


“The Pauley Heart Center is a true VCU treasure,” said President of VCU and VCU Health System Michael Rao, Ph.D., as he welcomed guests to the 2016 consortium. Approximately 75 faculty, administrators and donors attended the event, held April 12 at the John Marshall Ballroom.

Rao observed that the center is at the forefront of science. “But our mission is really about people … helping people live longer, happier lives.”

After dinner, Kenneth Ellenbogen, MD, chair of the Division of Cardiology, next shared some of the notable events of the year, including the completed renovation of the cardiac catheterization labs and the retirement of its innovative director George Vetrovec, MD after three decades. In his place, newly hired director, Luz Guzman, MD, “is doing a stellar job of carrying forward our tradition of excellence in cardiac catheterization.”

Chair of Surgery Vigneshwar Kasirajan, MD, then spoke about cardiac surgery and the increasing importance of collaboration between cardiac surgery, cardiology, and nursing teams. Additional efforts are forthcoming, he said, such as “bringing together pulmonary medicine and vascular surgery more closely to our work in the Pauley Heart Center.”

“Each year, consortium members and other guests gather to learn about recent advances in cardiovascular care stemming from research conducted at the Pauley Heart Center. Saving and improving lives of those with heart disease is one of our most important missions. It is a pleasure to work with so many donors and friends who share a passion for excellence in healthcare. They fuel discovery and its translation to the bedside.”

— Dr. Jerry Strauss,
Dean, VCU School of Medicine

Kasirajan also participated in the next event, a conversation led by VCU School of Medicine Dean Jerry Strauss III, MD, PhD that included Fadi Salloum, PhD, and Michael Hess, MD, PhD. While Salloum talked about how VCU’s basic science lab is making discoveries in heart failure that may one day help patients, Hess fielded questions about the Cardio-Oncology program that he has initiated at VCU. Hess’s endeavor—the only one of its kind in Virginia—provides support to cancer patients, many of whom suffer cardiovascular damage as a result their chemotherapy and other treatments.

“These are the types of research and advances that we are so excited to share,” said Strauss at the program’s conclusion. “Without your advocacy and gifts, we would not be able to do all of the things you heard about tonight.”

“Thank you for your steadfast support.”


First Annual Women’s Heart Health Sym.



On February 6, as part of Heart Month activities, VCU Health Pauley Heart Center hosted a symposium on women’s heart health at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Following opening remarks by Cardiology Chair Kenneth Ellenbogen, MD, the event’s speakers—an all-female group of cardiologists and a cardiac surgeon from VCU—presented case studies, a panel on heart failure, and topics including heart disease prevention, eating disorders and the heart, stress tests, and atrial fibrillation.

About 60 guests, including many from the medical community, attended the event. “The audience members were very engaged throughout the morning and asked thoughtful, provocative questions,” says Jordana Kron, MD, who co-chaired the event with Phoebe Ashley, MD.

Among the findings, attendants learned that “women with cardiac disease have different symptoms than men, receive different treatments, and respond differently to many therapies,” she says.

For instance, some women experience understated symptoms when they are having a heart attack. Instead of the familiar gripping chest pain, they might feel nausea, pain or discomfort in their stomach, jaw, neck, or back, or shortness of breath. Such “silent” warning signs may be missed by the women or even their healthcare providers.

Over the years, women have also been underrepresented in cardiac research. As a result, “the complexities, subtleties, and nuances of women’s hearts and vasculature are just now burgeoning onto the cardiovascular scene,” says Ashley.

That’s one reason the co-chairs hope to draw even more healthcare providers to next year’s symposium.

Among the findings, attendants learned that “women with cardiac disease have different symptoms than men, receive different treatments, and respond differently to many therapies,” she says.

“We feel that exploring the differences between men’s and women’s cardiac disease and educating ourselves and our colleagues regarding these issues will be critical to providing state-of-the-art women’s cardiovascular care in our area,” she says.



The VCU Health Pauley Heart Center is grateful to Ellen and Barry Chernack for their support of this event.

In addition to those mentioned in the article, the Heart Center also thanks speakers Hem Bhardwaj, MD, Bethany Denlinger, M.D. and Roshanak Markley, MD; roundtable contributors Mimi Peberdy, MD, Krishnasree Kasuganti Rao, MD, Melissa Smallfield, MD and Inna Tchoukina, MD; and moderator Patricia Nicolato, DO for their participation in the symposium.

Save the Date: The 2nd Women’s Heart Health Symposium will take place Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Please contact Caroline.Whitbeck@vcuhealth.org for more information.

Walkers Show Support for AHA


Teams from the VCU Health Pauley Heart Center took to the streets to raise funds for the American Heart Association’s annual Richmond Heart Walk, held Oct. 10, 2015, at West Creek Parkway. A total of 147 walkers from the heart center took part in the event and raised $15,991 for the organization, which seeks to save lives and support critical research for heart disease and strokes.  

“We have a long history of participation in the Heart Walk. We enjoy being a part of an event that has such an impact and supports the Pauley Heart Center and our patients in so many ways,” says VCU Health Pauley Heart Center Director of Nursing Kathryn Perkinson, RN. “The American Heart Association is a great partner in the fight against heart disease.”

The Pauley Heart Pumpers were VCU Health’s leading fundraising team. Lorraine Witzke, RN, served as co-chair with Greg Lowe, a heart transplant recipient.

“The 2015 Richmond Heart Walk raised over $1 million for the first time and we are looking forward to even greater things this year,” says Witzke.

The next Heart Walk will take place Saturday, October 8, 2016, and offer both 1- and 3-mile routes. To sign up or support a VCU Health Pauley Heart Center team, please visit www.WalkWithVCU.com.

“We hope you will join us. It is a great time for family, friends—even the four-legged ones—to get some fresh air and exercise,” says Witzke.

Patient Shares His Journey

david-cottrellFor David Cottrell, his story with heart disease began like this: “Last year, I went to bed with a ‘touch of flu.’ When I woke up, I was dying.”   

These words are from an open letter of appreciation to his cardiac team at the Pauley Heart Center, which he published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in January.

“Mr. Cottrell was a wonderful patient to take care of.  I am always impressed by the resilience and tenacity that patients demonstrate when facing such dire circumstances,” said Cardiac/Thoracic Surgeon Daniel Tang, MD.

Instead of the flu, Cottrell, who had previously enjoyed a lifetime of good health, was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, along with a bacterial staph infection that attacked his heart valve. He’d experienced multiple embolic strokes, and his body was going into multisystem organ failure.

He was transferred to VCU at the urging of a cardiac surgeon in New York. “From the moment I arrived at VCU Health and saw the team that had already been gathered, I never again had a moment of doubt or fear,” he says.

His surgical team was made up of Vigneshwar Kasirajan, MD, Daniel Tang, MD, Zachary Gertz, MD, Rajiv Malhotra, DO.

“You faced a medical nightmare, but what you said to me was, ‘Don’t worry. This is what we do every day,’” he recalls in the letter.

In the year that followed, his team grew as he returned to the hospital for a series of frightening setbacks—including three emergency open-heart surgeries. Denise Lynch, RN, coordinated the effort, working closely with Cottrell’s wife, Christy, who visited him every day.

“Mr. Cottrell was a wonderful patient to take care of.  I am always impressed by the resilience and tenacity that patients demonstrate when facing such dire circumstances,” said cardiac/thoracic surgeon Daniel Tang, MD. “Equally impressive was his determination to rehab and recover.”

According to Tang, “It was quite a surprise and very gratifying to see the open letter. It is certainly unusual and was very much appreciated by the staff involved in his care.”

With David now recovered, he and Christy are enjoying their second chance at life with home renovations and travel—and gratitude for VCU.

“When I arrived, I was your patient,” he writes. “Today, you are my family.”

To read Carissa Etters’ article on the couple’s amazing story and watch a video, please follow this link: http://news.vcu.edu/article/Health_care_from_the_heart_Three_new_valves_and_a_fresh_outlook