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Arie Blitz, MD, adjunct professor and chief of the division of cardiac surgery and associate director for the surgical program, came to the University of Cincinnati and UC Health in August from University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Blitz was director of heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at UH Case Medical Center and implanted the first Jarvik heart pump at the center. Blitz produces videos to train other surgeons and take the mystery out of his operating room for heart patients.
What brought you to UC?
"I had been in Cleveland and in charge of the mechanical heart transplant program at University Hospitals and I wanted to broaden that role, and what really struck me is how Cincinnati is underserved for advanced heart failure care. There is no heart transplant program in Cincinnati right now, and it needs one. The VAD (ventricular assist device) program can be flourishing and provide a much higher rate than it currently is in Cincinnati. Anybody who wants a heart transplant has to go to Columbus, Cleveland, Indianapolis or Louisville. Cincinnati provided an opportunity to be chief of the entire program, which would allow me to shape and deliver heart care. There needs to be a place in Cincinnati where patients who need the cardiac surgery that they can’t get elsewhere can have access to it.”
How did you decide to become a heart surgeon?
"I went to college thinking I was going to become an attorney. I was a philosophy major. It was a very unique major and that was probably one of the best decisions I made in my life. It taught me how to evaluate things on a more or less objective basis, and how to align what I like in life and what I should be doing. When I was in college I realized what I had been preparing myself for my entire life is not what I should be doing. What it led me to do was actually take a semester off, which was very disheartening to my mother.
"My mother said, ‘My son is a dropout.’ But it was the smartest thing I did because during that six-month period I went to work for a cardiologist just doing filing and clerical work. He took a liking to me. In those days you could go into the office with a patient, and I got to see what he did and how the patients treated him and more importantly how he treated his patients. He was a wonderful, wonderful doctor and I just fell in love with the field and thought this was amazing. Yes, it could be good livelihood and it could make me a good living, but more importantly here was something that had intrinsic value and that I enjoyed. So that completely changed my whole life around and I went back to school with a renewed vigor.
"I was not studying any of the pre-med courses so I had to cram in a lot so I could be prepared for medical school. I went to medical school and I loved being active and using my hands so I knew that surgery was appealing. Initially, it was going to be brain surgery, and I focused all my efforts my first two years on that in medical school. I rotated through with a neurosurgeon, and I realized I don’t know if I should say this, but it was very boring to me and the pace was kind of slow. I realized this was not what I liked. I met up with a faculty member in cardio surgery who then became my mentor. I watched and rotated and I fall in love with the work. The first time I saw a heart stop for an operation and then get re-started at the end, I said, ‘This is it for me.’ That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.”
What is your current research focus?
"I will be part of a clinical trial that will test an investigational heart assist device. It will require less invasive surgery for patients. The device is a balloon that wraps around the aorta and pumps and squeezes the aorta to move the blood forward. It is designed for patients with lesser degrees of heart failure. Right now there is a focus on ventricular assist devices (mechanical pumps placed in the heart) to assist patients in end stage heart disease. "
What do you do in your spare time?
"My family is key for me. I have my wife, Tina, and my 11-year old daughter. Right now they haven’t moved here, so that is the most difficult part. My daughter has special needs, so that’s why we are transitioning. She is my life and in fact her name is Abigail. When we knew we were going to have a daughter, we were trying to decide on a name. We came across her name, Abigail, and in Hebrew that means ‘father’s joy,’ so we didn’t past the A’s. Most of my free time is spent around activities with her and sports events. We love to travel.”