The Wanderful Mag, Issue 3 Q1 2015

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ISSUE 3, Q1 2015











Prof. Dr. med. Stefanos Demertzis is an Associate Professor at the University of Bern and Head of the Department of Cardiac Surgery at the Cardiocentro Ticino in Lugano. His special clinical interests are minimally invasive coronary and reconstructive valve surgery, as well as interdisciplinary approaches in acute and chronic heart failure. His research focuses on flow visualization and the development of medical devices. In his free time he trains for triathlon and publishes his widely-read blog on heart health –





As a cardiac surgeon, you have experienced holding a beating human heart in your hand. What thoughts go through your mind at such a moment? It may sound unromantic, but at that particular moment my thoughts are completely technical: where we are in the procedure, or whether I see something unexpected. I must try to blank out any thoughts about who the person on the table is if I am going to perform at my best. Before the operation and after, of course I am thinking constantly about the patient, the patient’s family, the lives that are affected by the illness. And when I consider the heart, I feel intensely the beauty of the human organism and the beauty of creation. Touching and opening hearts gives me a unique opportunity to admire them and through them the miracle of life.

“Touching and opening hearts gives me a unique opportunity to admire them and through them the miracle of life.” All good surgeons need the ability to blank out sentiment – almost to switch their humanity on and off. My relationship with my patients and their families therefore goes through three phases: intense empathy in consultation, pure technical focus during surgery – where the individual is represented only by his or her specific anatomy or medical issues – and then supportive, empathetic care during recovery.



Many physicians distrust the Internet’s wealth of medical

You also train as a triathlete. What parallels do you see be-

information because they feel it damages the doctor/pa-

tween this and your profession?

tient relationship. What made you decide to embrace it?

There are parallels indeed. My mantra is “continuous improve-

To be frank, I am very careful when it comes to medical topics

ment”. It applies to both, triathlon and profession. It is a constant

especially those found after a Google search – but it is the most

urge to improve my skills and understanding. All three disciplines

common approach people choose in our days, so we have to deal

in triathlon are highly technical – even running, if you want to

with it… When a person needs medical attention, naturally he’ll

streamline your training and avoid injury. So I focus closely to

surf the internet to search for specific knowledge. You’re giving

technique to try to become just that little bit more efficient or

control over your body to somebody else; it’s normal to want

successful, not in terms of competition, but in achieving balance,

information. The problem is that most of this information is

health and feeling fully alive. You learn to sharpen your focus on

unfiltered; the recipients can’t judge whether it properly applies

each technical issue, something which is also absolute essential

to them. They can easily start thinking like consumers, rating

when operating. The sensation of continuous improvement is so

treatments the way they compare the specs on a TV or the tread

enjoyable – each race, each tackled task is a celebration. The jour-

on car tires. Then when they visit their physician, it’s not just

ney is the reward. Don’t get it wrong please, in the case of surgery

useful background they bring – it’s a shopping list: I want exact-

the reward is the good final result for the patient.

ly this procedure, performed exactly in this way. This creates a breach in the delicate relationship between doctor and patient, because they may not accept why the treatment you propose differs from what they saw on the Internet. It takes time before they ask: “or is this not suitable for me?” So I felt the need to communicate through all the channels

“I feel that we are expanding the conversation to get outside this consumer/provider level.”

available, as through Heartmatters, to provide more filtered information. I’m not the first or the last, there are millions of pages

What are some of the exciting developments you see in the

out there, but it was a real need and it has been confirmed by the

near future of cardiology?

patients’ response. I feel that we are expanding the conversation to

The research that I have the opportunity to do at the university is

get outside this consumer/provider level.

another path to continuous improvement, helping to move things forward, to better what I and others can do for our patients. It’s fascinating. This is a great time in cardiology, the technological and biochemical advances made at the moment will transform the field. We can already do things that were unthinkable fifteen years ago, thanks to new technologies. At the biochemical level, what we are learning about intercellular and intracellular signaling pathways may make it possible to cure many kinds of heart disease before they produce the complications that we now have to treat. But here, too, the information needs to be filtered: these advances may not be as complete as they are described in marketing materials or press reports. Journalists rarely have the training in science they need to judge how important a discovery or invention is – that’s where I come in, to try to give my readers a better-informed view.





When it comes to heart disease, prevention is obvious-

If you had not been a cardiac surgeon, what would you have

ly better than cure: are there things we could all do that


maintain a healthy heart?

I had the choice to study architecture and law: both very structural

Well, I certainly don’t want to see you as a patient in my operat-

disciplines, with a wide view but highly important details, which

ing theatre! To keep your heart healthy, start with diet and follow

demand dedication and passion to pursue properly – that is, just

Aristotle’s advice: “nothing in excess.” Aim for balanced nutrition,

like surgery! I still have a passion for design and architecture and

with no exaggeration at either end of the food pyramid. Limit the

try to keep up with it through books and journals. Where I live in

toxins you expose yourself to: from a heart health point of view,

Ticino, here there are some excellent examples of beautiful build-

smoking is simply the worst habit you can have.

ings both historical and modern.

Pursue physical activity – but this doesn’t have to be extreme sport like triathlon: just regular activity for 30 minutes at least three times a week. Something that makes you sweat, gets you to leave your comfort zone and breathe more quickly, but you should still be able to talk. This applies to whatever activity you choose. Finally, strive for a balanced soul… think, reflect, be aware. Apply the brakes to the frenzy of everyday life. Whether it’s art, literature, religion, sport – whatever brings you to that state. Reduce stress, always remembering that this doesn’t mean being inert: you can be passionate and active about something that reduces your stress levels.

THE WANDERFUL TAKE Healing Information Nowadays we have too much data and too little wisdom. When the world can talk to the world, free of charge, 24 hours a day, a lot of what is said will be worthless or misleading. It is tempting for the real experts simply to shake their heads and ignore it, but Dr. Demertzis has taken on the challenge to treat the information as well as the patient, setting himself apart as a trustworthy source on a complex but vital subject. If every true expert did the same, the Internet would indeed be Wanderful.



A publication by Ander Group SA, BSW Contributors Florian Anderhub, Editor in Chief Luciano Marx, Art Direction Simona Tami, Director of Photography Alberto Bernasconi, Photography Publisher Ander Group SA, BSW Lugano, Lausanne, Geneva T. +41 91 966 99 66 All rights reserved, 2015

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