Letter from the Chairman

Letter-EllenbogenFriends and Supporters,

As the new year begins, it’s a fitting time to reflect upon the past, even as we look forward to the future and many new exciting plans for 2017.

Our cover story profiles three VCU administrators who have been instrumental to our success. John Duval, Dr. Jerry Strauss and Dr. John Ward. These leaders are the team that helped build the Pauley Heart Center and helped us take it to the next level. We are so grateful for all they have done to develop Pauley into a world class heart center.

In this issue, you will also find a history of our programs for heart transplantation and the total artificial heart and advanced left ventricular mechanical assist devices. VCU has become a leading center for these programs in the United States and all over the world. The same is true for our ARCTIC Program, which draws patients from all over Virginia. The dedication and innovative approaches of Dr. Mimi Peberdy and her team helped attract the Weil Institute, one of the world’s top resuscitation and critical care laboratories. We anticipate the new partnership will lead to many exciting discoveries.

Our footprint continues to expand in Virginia, and we welcome the outstanding clinicians who are part of MCV Physicians at Colonial Square. Additionally, in this issue you will learn about other doctors and staff who are making a difference in the lives of our patients, including Dr. Luis Guzman and his interventional cardiology team, Dr. Jay Koneru and Dr. Richard Shepard with complex lead management, and Dr. Pat Nicolato and the ECMO team.

February is American Heart Month, and in this issue, you can learn about some of the special events taking place to bring more awareness of cardiovascular disease to the public.

Thank you for your support in making these programs possible.


Kenneth A. Ellenbogen, MD

Chairman, Division of Cardiology

Pauley Celebrates Heart Month

VCU Health Pauley Heart Center is taking part in many special events in February for American Heart Month, including VCU Health Goes Red (Feb. 3), Heart Health in Women Symposium (Feb. 4), Facebook Live Q & A with Phoebe Ashley, M.D. (Feb. 6), AHA Go Red Luncheon (Feb. 10), and information tables at the VCU vs. St. Joseph’s Men’s Basketball game (Feb. 14).



The heart center will host a seminar series at Lewis-Ginter Botanical Gardens. Topics include:

“An Affair of the Heart: Understanding Women’s Heart Disease,”
by Phoebe Ashley, M.D.,
with health screenings offered by the heart center team (Feb. 9);

“New Treatments for Atrial Fibrillation”
by Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D., and Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D. (Feb. 21); and

“Valve Disease”
by Barbara Lawson, M.D., and Jose Exaire, M.D. (Feb. 28).

The seminars begin at 5:30 p.m. and are free and open to the public. Registration is available at vcuhealth.org/events.


Symposium Spotlights Women’s Heart Health

woman-runner-1VCU Health Pauley Heart Center will host the second annual “Heart Health in Women Symposium,” which will take place on Feb. 4 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

“Last year, we had a good turnout with 60 participants. We are hoping to steadily grow the program and advance women’s cardiovascular knowledge and care in our community,” said Phoebe Ashley, M.D., who is for the second year co-chairing the event with Jordana Kron, M.D. Ashley and Kron are among the cardiologists who will speak at the event.

This year’s topics include “The Nuances and Truth of Coronary Artery Disease in Women,” “Lipid Guidelines: What is New in Lipid Management,” “5 ECGs Not to Miss,” “Get Up and Go: Exercise and Cardiac Rehab in Women,” “Pregnancy and the Heart: Cases from Obstetrics Clinic,” “Time is Brain: Preventing and Treating Stroke in Women,” and “Obesity: Problems and Solutions.” There will also be a panel discussion on “Survivorship: The Heart of the Breast Cancer Patient” with specialists in cardio-oncology and heart failure.

“We are hoping to steadily grow the program and advance women’s cardiovascular knowledge and care in our community.”

The event is targeted to healthcare professionals. Registration will begin at 7 a.m. The program will include breakfast and conclude at noon. For more information, please contact: Caroline.Whitbeck@vcuhealth.org.

The VCU Pauley Heart Center is grateful to Ellen and Barry Chernack for their support of the Heart Health in Women Symposium.

Heart Matters Conference Held

Over 120 nurses and allied health professionals attended the VCU Health Pauley Heart Center Nursing’s 17th Annual Heart Matters Conference, held Nov. 18th at the Richmond Marriott.

Director of Nursing Kathryn Perkinson, MSN, gave the opening and closing remarks for the day-long event. Physician and nurse speakers addressed a variety of topics in cardiovascular disease, including new research and procedures, and a panel discussion on “Transforming Care at the Bedside.”

“The speakers were dynamic, especially Dr. Ashley, whose topic was women’s heart health,” said Michelle Gossip, a nurse and ARCTIC Program Coordinator.

A former Pauley heart transplant patient and cancer survivor also spoke. “He shared his story about how caring and compassionate the medical providers were who impacted him during this very critical illness. They ultimately impacted his decision to go into a healthcare-related career,” said Gossip.

She added, “The purpose of the day is to gain new knowledge, but it’s also for rejuvenation. That’s why we always end the day with a patient-lived experience: It refills our cup.”

Heart Ball Kickoff Highlights Research

On Dec. 1, the American Heart Association Richmond Affiliate with local sponsor VCU Health hosted a kickoff for the upcoming Richmond Heart Ball. About 75 guests attended the event, held at the McGlothlin Medical Education Center.

“The focus was on AHA-funded research in the Richmond community,” said Richmond Heart Ball Director of Development Meredith Martin. Speaking at the event were cardiothoracic surgeons and AHA-funded researcher Mohammed Quader, M.D., and a heart transplant patient. “They provided an inspiring, tangible example of how sponsorship and donor dollars are used in our community.”

With catering by Mosaic, “it was a special evening highlighting the over 25-year relationship between the AHA and VCU as we celebrate our 25th anniversary Heart Ball,” said Martin.

Last year, the Richmond Heart Ball raised over $1 million to support vital, life-saving research in the cardiovascular and stroke fields as well as professional and educational programs in the Richmond community. This year’s ball will take place on April 22, 2017, at Main Street Station — the first event to be featured at the new Richmond event space—and include a cocktail reception, silent and live auctions, dinner, live music and dancing.

For more information, please contact Meredith Martin at Meredith.Martin@Heart.org or 804-965-6533.

Saving Lives with Hands-Only CPR



“CPR is not what we all grew up knowing it as. You don’t have to do mouth-to-mouth,” said Michelle Gossip, a Pauley Heart Center nurse. “Hands Only CPR is easy, and it only takes a few minutes to learn.”

Gossip, the program coordinator for the Advanced Resuscitation, Cooling Therapeutics, and Intensive Care (ARCTIC), post cardiac arrest program, was one of about 100 guests who attended a Hands-Only CPR event on Sept. 26. VCU Health helped coordinate and promote the program, which was open to the public and held in anticipation of the Anthem Richmond Marathon, American Family Half Marathon and the VCU Health 8K.

With the backdrop of a special mobile tour bus, American Heart Association CPR instructors taught participants how to identify the signs of cardiac arrest and demonstrated lifesaving chest pumping movements to the tunes of Shakira. Each guest went home with a Hands Only CPR kit and practice mannequin. Although fun, the program had an important mission.

“The more people that know how to do this very easy skill, the more lives are going to be saved,” said Gossip. “Our Pauley Heart team knows that when someone comes to the ER for cardiac event, and they’ve received CPR in the field, it can potentially double someone’s chance of survival.”

Welcome Virginia Medical Group!

colonial-teamOn June 1 2017, Virginia Medical Group in Colonial Heights, joined the VCU Health System. The outpatient cardiology and neurology practice is now known as MCV Physicians at Colonial Square.

The clinic primarily draws patients from Colonial Heights, Petersburg, Hopewell and Emporia. Onsite diagnostic testing for cardiology patients includes stress tests, nuclear cardiology, echocardiograms, Holter and event monitoring, and pacemaker and automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator monitoring. The clinic’s physicians are VCU assistant professors of Internal Medicine and additionally see patients downtown at the Pauley Heart Center for procedures such as cardiac catheterizations.

“Joining the VCU Health family gives us a unique opportunity to blend private practice cardiology with academic cardiology without moving our office location. We are most excited and enthusiastic about the future of our practice,” said Beverly Spencer, M.D., the facility’s medical director and director of nuclear cardiology.



Spencer received her medical degree from Harvard Medical School and served her residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She completed her fellowship at University of Virginia.

She holds board certifications in Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Diseases and Nuclear Cardiology and offers full cardiac outpatient services, including consults, follows, echocardiography, Holter and event monitoring, stress tests, nuclear cardiology and device management.

Spencer is joined at MCV Physicians at Colonial Square by five cardiologists: George Eapen, M.D., FACC, completed his medical degree at Trivandrum Medical College in India. 
He then served his residency at Bergen Pines County Hospital in Paramus, New Jersey, and his fellowship at Metropolitan Hospital at New York Medical College. He is board certified in Cardiology and Interventional Cardiology.

Named an “Unsung Hero” in 2000 by the Virginia Health Care Foundation for his volunteer work, Eapen is a co-founder of Pathways, a Petersburg clinic that offers free medical services to uninsured patients.

Matthew Joseph, M.D., FACC, received his medical degree from Kottayam Medical College in India, then completed his residency and fellowship at Metropolitan Hospital in New York. He served an additional fellowship at SUNY Stony Brook. He holds board certifications in Cardiology and Interventional Cardiology. His areas of specialization include clinical cardiology, echocardiograms, stress tests and angioplasties.

K.L. Ashok Kumar, M.D., FACC, FACP, received his medical degree from Bangalore Medical College in India, where he also served his residency. In the U.S., he completed an additional residency at Wayne State University Hospital along with a fellowship at University of California at Irvine. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Disease.

Satish Pathak, M.D., received his medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina, and served his residency at University of North Carolina Hospital in Chapel Hill. He completed his fellowship at VCU Medical Center. He holds board certifications in Cardiology and Interventional Cardiology.



Deepak Thomas, M.D., M.Phil., joined the Pauley Heart Center in the summer of 2015 and works downtown and at Colonial Square. He received his M.D. from VCU School of Medicine, then completed his internship and residency at Yale University, his fellowship in cardiology at Washington University School of Medicine, and an advanced fellowship in interventional cardiology (Level III Peripheral Vascular and Coronary Intervention) at the University of Virginia.

He specializes in interventional cardiology, conducting peripheral vascular and percutaneous coronary interventions, and is board certified in Interventional Cardiology, General Cardiology, Echocardiography, Vascular Ultrasound (RPVI), and Internal Medicine.

Before turning to medicine, Thomas received his B.A. in Literature & Cultures in English from Brown University and was awarded a full scholarship to Cambridge University, United Kingdom, where he received an M.Phil. in 18th Century British Literature.

Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D., chair of Cardiology at VCU Pauley Heart Center, said, “I am excited to have such excellent cardiologists joining the MCV Cardiology community. Our partners have a long track record of excellent and compassionate care to their patients and extends our ability to provide outstanding cardiovascular care to their community.”

In addition to the cardiology practice, neurologist Philip O’Donnell, M.D., offers outpatient adult services at the clinic.

MCV Physicians of Colonial Square is located at 2905 Boulevard, Colonial Heights, Virginia 23834. To schedule an appointment, please call 804-526-0682.

“I Try Not to Hold Back”



Meet Jerron Hargrove and Jesse Torrence, two young men who underwent heart transplantations at VCU and are now back to living their lives.

At a recent checkup, transplant patient 
Jerron Hargrove shared his story. “I was born with an irregular heartbeat, but never had any problems with it, I played sports all my life, joined the military.” About 6-7 months after completing his Marine Corps service, he blacked out. “And that’s when I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.” He was 21.

Jerron was put on a pacemaker with an internal cardiac defibrillator and IV inotropes. After about two and half years, his health deteriorated and he was admitted to VCU Medical Center, where he received care for eight months before receiving a total artificial heart. “I was on Big Blue [a 400-pound console that drives the artificial heart] for six months in the hospital, then I received my heart transplant on August 31, 2010, two weeks before my 25th birthday.”

Surgeons Daniel Tang, M.D., and Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D., and cardiologists Keyur Shah, M.D., and Michael Hess, M.D., provided his care. “Those were my all-star doctors.” Additionally, he speaks highly of his nursing team and support staff. “Everyone that I encountered was grand. Some came on their off days just to hang out.”

In his long months in the hospital, “I was on close watch, I couldn’t go outside, I couldn’t leave the floor. I think that was the most difficult thing, not being able to feel the outside world. And me being young and never being sick before and it happening so fast, it was very hard to adjust to.”

For the surgeries, “I was nervous of course, but it was out of my hands. I just wanted it to be over. At one point, I was at a depression phase that I stopped fighting. But my team of doctors and nurses 
encouraged me, and I trusted them.”

After his transplant, he returned to school, and completed training in barbering and culinary arts, and now works full-time. He is an active volunteer, visiting with other transplant patients who need encouragement. Last spring, he threw out the first pitch at VCU Pauley Heart Center Night at the Richmond Squirrels game. “I try not to hold back on any of my activities.”
Six years after his transplant, “I’m doing fine,” he said. “I think everything is on a good path now.”

In his August 1, 2016, email thanking his Pauley doctors, nurses and staff, Jesse Torrence said, “Today marks five years since my heart transplant. I don’t think they make a good Hallmark card for this sort of thing.”

“It is a privilege to be part of Jerron and Jesse’s care. While this is perhaps true in all of medicine, the heart is special. It is inspiring to see individuals faced with such dire circumstances persevere and recover.”
—Daniel Tang, M.D.



Torrence was 31 and living in Washington, D.C., when he developed shortness of breath, stomach pain and a cough. He went to the doctor, where because of the fluid in his lungs, “they thought it was pneumonia.” He returned home, but even with treatments, the problem got worse. With the coughing, “at night, I had to sleep on the kitchen table with my head down” because it was the only comfortable position. Finally, he drove himself to the emergency room at Sibley Memorial Hospital, where he was diagnosed with heart failure, and Lifeflighted to MedStar Washington Hospital. Doctors diagnosed him with giant cell myocarditis, a very serious heart inflammation. “It is fatal to 90% of the people who do not have a transplant.” He believes that his contraction of Lyme disease the summer before may have triggered the infection.

He had several surgeries to remove a clot “the size of a tennis ball” from his heart. On Mother’s Day, he was put on ECMO, “they didn’t think my lungs would survive,” he said. Doctors put him into a medically induced coma for six weeks, during which, he experienced a stroke. Finally, though his health improved enough for him to be transported to a place where he could get an artificial heart. “I woke up in June 2011 at VCU.”

The CICU team tended to him, waiting for his lungs and health to improve. During this time, his family and girlfriend, Oana Cheta, relocated to Richmond, to stay with him around the clock. “I wasn’t strong enough to push the call button.”

He gradually improved, and two months later, he had a successful heart transplant surgery, performed by Kasirajan and Tang. He appreciates the work of his surgeons and Keyur Shah, M.D., and Richard Cooke, M.D., who provided his post-care. Nurse practitioner Maureen Flattery “was a pillar for me,” he said, expressing gratitude to the incredible nurses, doctors, physical therapists and many others who cared for him.

Now in good health, he married Cheta in August 2012. The couple lives in Chicago, where they work for nonprofits and are 
raising their son, Sasha, who was born November 3, 2015. “He’s the light of our lives.”

In his letter, he attached photos of his family and noted, “I could spend years searching for the right words to say thank you, again, for not giving up on me, for 
dedicating your life to health care/medicine, for listening to and rallying around my 
family and each other, for keeping faith with us however you knew how…”

“Or I could just shut up and share these photos, which, by my calculations, are worth about 15,000 words and capture best why I’m most grateful to still be here.”

Pauley Unveils New EP Lab

Procedures are underway at VCU Health Pauley Heart Center’s newest electrophysiology lab, which opened late December. An additional lab was completed in September 2013, and another is scheduled to be unveiled this spring.

The three labs will help VCU meet growing patient demand, including an increasing number of complex, high-risk cases.

“The volume of EP procedures we’re doing is close to 2,000,” said Chair of Cardiology Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D. “The labs will have state-of-the-art imaging, made by GE, which will allow us to do things better and safer than we’ve ever done before.”

The labs are part of a $24 million renovation that VCU Pauley Heart Center began in 2013 to improve its interventional cardiology suite. When completed, the project will include seven highly advanced GE labs, including the three EP labs as well as four cardiac catheterization labs that have already been completed.

Stay tuned for a visit to the labs in our next issue of The Beat.

Weil Institute Selects VCU Health



An internationally renowned cardiopulmonary resuscitation research institute has recently moved its headquarters from Rancho Mirage, California, to VCU Medical Center.

Founded in 1961 by the late Max Harry Weil, M.D., Ph.D. and the late Herbert Shubin, M.D., “the Weil Institute is one of the premier basic science and critical care laboratories in the world,” said Mary Ann Peberdy, M.D., a Pauley Heart Center cardiologist and director of VCU’s Advanced Resuscitation, Cooling Therapeutics, and Intensive Care 
(ARCTIC) program.

The teaching hospital was selected after a yearlong search, said Weil Institute Director Wanchun Tang, M.D. “The institute’s board of advisors unanimously chose VCU as their new home based on the academic medical center’s excellent clinical and resuscitation program.”

The ARCTIC program was developed at VCU Medical Center in 1998 and uses advanced resuscitation techniques and therapeutic hypothermia to improve patient outcomes following cardiac arrest. About 80-90 patients benefit from ARCTIC’s lifesaving procedures each year.

Weil is regarded as one of the fathers of critical care medicine. In 1955, he created the first bedside shock cart—the precursor to today’s “code cart” in all hospitals. Then, in 1959, Weil and Shubin developed the first intensive care ward for critically ill patients in Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. Although he died in 2011, Weil’s legacy lives on in the work at the institute, where current research focuses on improving outcomes of CPR, circulatory shock, life-threatening heart failure, acute lung failure and overwhelming infections that produce septic shock. The institute is also making significant advances in life-sustaining medical technology.

Prior to the partnership, “what we did not yet have at VCU was a basic science laboratory that focused on CPR,” said Joseph Ornato, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “What we now have is one of the strongest comprehensive basic science, clinical and translational resuscitation programs in the world.”

In addition to their other roles, Peberdy and Ornato will serve as co-deputy directors of the Weil Institute of Emergency and Critical Care Research at VCU, which held its grand opening on Oct. 24.

“[Dr. Weil] would have been proud to see what the next step is for the Weil Institute,” said his widow, Marianne Posner, who joined VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Located on the first floor of the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building on the MCV campus, the new institute’s décor includes a portrait of Weil and historic photos of the first ICU.

“What we now have is one of the strongest comprehensive basic science, clinical and translational resuscitation programs in the world.”

“Dr. Weil’s contributions to resuscitation and critical care are unparalleled. He published some of the most groundbreaking work in these areas over a 50-year career and trained over 400 physician-scientists worldwide in basic science critical care and resuscitation research,” said Peberdy.

“Dr. Weil was a dear friend and mentor to me for over 25 years,” she added. “I can think of no greater honor in my career than to be given the opportunity to play a role in carrying on his legacy.”

For more information, please visit Weil.VCU.edu.