The American Heart Association’s President John Warner was on a leave on account of a minor heart attack on Monday during the organization’s yearly conference. Dr. Warner is recovering well, and is good spirits – and (because of that) we feel it appropriate to point out the irony of the entire situation!
John Warner, a practicing cardiologist and CEO of the UT Southwestern University Hospitals in Dallas, suffered a minor heart attack during a AHA Conference. The team treating him were forced to surgically insert a stent into his heart, to open a blocked artery.
He was present with his wife and children who had come along and attended the Scientific Sessions meeting to see him deliver his Presidential Address on Sunday. In his speech, the 52-year-old had talked about the effects of the heart diseases on his own family. He had also mentioned how both his father and grandfather had bypass surgeries in their 60s. He also mentioned that he had lost his maternal grandfather and another of his great-grandfather to heart diseases.
He had concluded his speech saying:
“Earlier in my talk, I told you there were no old men in my family. I know this is also true in far too many other families, not just in the U.S., but around the world. I believe the people in this room have the power – and even the duty – to change that. Together, we can make sure old men and old women are regulars at family reunions … In other words, I look forward to a future where people have the exact opposite experience of my family, that children grow up surrounded by so many healthy, beloved, elderly relatives that they couldn’t imagine life any other way.”
Warner had been a longtime volunteer for the AHA and had begun his one-year term as the organization’s volunteer leader in July. So far, he has represented the organization everywhere from the nation’s capital to Panama and Beijing. Scientific Sessions are considered to be the highlights of a president’s tenure.
“John wanted to reinforce that this incident underscores the important message that he left us within his presidential address yesterday – that much progress has been made, but much remains to be done. Cardiac events can still happen anytime and anywhere,” Nancy Brown, the chief executive officer of the AHA had said in a statement.
Warner had spent the bulk of his medical career as an interventional cardiologist, often performing the very same procedure that he himself underwent on Monday morning.
His extensive training in the cardiac catheterization came at Duke. In 2003, he had returned to the UT Southwestern – where he’d completed his residency after medical school – to lead the Cath lab. He took on several other leadership roles over the years and then began expanding his influence beyond his hospital system by working with the AHA.
Warner played a leading role in turning America’s ninth-largest city into a smoke-free city and in setting up a chain of survival for people who had suffered a particular type of heart attack in the Dallas County.
“I began to see the health of my community in a different way,” he had said in his Sunday’s speech. “Being part of this effort helped me realize that the voices of doctors, nurses and healthcare leaders needed to be heard within the community … I vowed to do more of this, to broaden my involvement in my community and to make a difference on a larger scale.”
A great opportunity came to him in 2010 when the UT Southwestern had decided to build an $800 million hospital. Warner had become the physician lead on its design. His efforts were so appreciated that he became CEO of the healthcare system itself in 2012, the same year the hospital had opened.
According to him, the toughest part of making that move, he had said in his speech, was ending his days as an interventional cardiologist.
“You don’t want a guy who wears a suit all day dropping by the Cath lab to put in your stent,” he said, laughing.
“The first time I heard the phrase ‘heart attack’ was at age 6 when my great grandfather died suddenly,” he had said in his speech. “Like many such victims, he had no known heart disease and his death came as a shock to our family. Later, during my residency, both of my grandfathers died of cardiovascular disease … After my son was born and we were introducing him to his extended family, I realized something very disturbing: There were no old men on either side of my family. None. All the branches of our family tree cut short by cardiovascular disease.”