Physicians Perspective

Strong As Ever

“Just keep breathing.”

That’s a bit of advice I occasionally give patients who are going through a tough time. Focusing on this most basic element of respiration seems to help reduce anxiety in many stressful circumstances, and it’s advice I also use myself. In the operating room, for instance, when I’m placing a challenging stitch or dealing with a complex heart valve case, I sometimes tell myself to just keep breathing. And then I take that deep breath and keep operating. 

A chief resident I knew, who was a few years ahead of me when I was training at the Mayo Clinic, had a different mantra—but one that works just as well. When things got tough, Dr. Said would keep saying: “Don’t give up!” I can still hear that chant in my head.

Challenges and Enhancements

Although my training at the Mayo Clinic prepared me to handle even the most challenging aspects of cardiothoracic surgery, many things still arise in carrying out my everyday duties that can only be learned on the job. 

Since joining the Sentara RMH cardiothoracic team almost two years ago, things have changed significantly in that short time. Probably the most challenging adjustment occurred when several colleagues left our program. At that point, finding ourselves with fewer team members, Dr. Said’s advice became especially relevant. 

Through perseverance, I’m pleased to report that we were soon able to recruit multiple talented new team members and get them trained and oriented to our processes and expectations. And in spite of the personnel changes, the mission of our cardiothoracic team—to provide the safest, highest-quality heart care possible—hasn’t wavered one bit. 

In addition to adding new providers, in 2019 we advanced the breadth and depth of the cardiothoracic surgery program at Sentara RMH. Last year, 200 patients received a new lease on life by having their hearts mended in our operating room, and many more received treatment to open blocked coronary arteries and address other cardiac issues in our Catheterization Lab. In addition, dozens of patients improved their chances of surviving lung cancer, thanks to the safe, effective thoracic surgeries our team performed. 

Earning National Recognition

In late 2019, Sentara RMH was recognized by IBM Watson Health as one of the top 50 cardiovascular hospitals of 2020! The IBM Watson list also includes St. Mary’s Hospital at the Mayo Clinic, so it’s nice to find myself in familiar company! 

As I ask myself just how we managed to impress the all-knowing IBM Watson Health team and receive this important, impressive national recognition, I keep concluding the same thing: We are fortunate to be surrounded by a group of fantastic colleagues and friends who made this progress possible. Gifted physicians, compassionate and skilled nurses, and one of the hardest working operating room teams I’ve known should receive much of the credit. In addition—and most important—the trust and support of this community is vital to our ongoing success and continued growth. Without the trust of our patients to come to Sentara RMH for their heart care, we would have no reason to be here. 

A Multidisciplinary Approach

Our cardiothoracic surgery program and the other heart care programs at Sentara RMH are as strong as ever because of the multidisciplinary approach we take. To improve our level of care, in recent years we have developed an ever-closer collaboration among the Cardiology, Pulmonary Critical Care, and Cardiothoracic Surgery departments, and our patients have been the greatest beneficiaries of these efforts.

Even though this collaborative, multidisciplinary approach is receiving increased emphasis in modern medicine, it’s actually not really that novel. In fact, its importance was recognized many years ago by Dr. Will Mayo, one of the principle founders of the Mayo Clinic. 

“As we grow in learning, we more justly appreciate our dependence upon each other,” Dr. Will wrote. “The sum-total of medical knowledge is now so great and wide-spreading that it would be futile for one man to attempt to acquire, or for any one man to assume that he has, even a good working knowledge of any large part of the whole. The very necessities of the case are driving practitioners into cooperation. The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered, and in order that the sick may have the benefit of advancing knowledge, union of forces is necessary.” [emphasis added]

Without learning from the past, it is much harder to affect the future. As we move forward, I am certain we will have many new lessons to learn here at Sentara RMH, and that new challenges and changes in providing health care will continue to arise. But in the face of all that, I believe the lessons I learned at the Mayo Clinic will remain unchanged:

Don’t give up!

Always provide the best patient-centered care possible. 

And just keep breathing …


Award-Winning Heart Care at Sentara RMH

Sentara RMH Cardiovascular Services recently received two prestigious national awards for excellence in heart care. 

IBM Watson Health has included Sentara RMH among its 50 Top Cardiovascular Hospitals for 2020. This top-50 designation is part of the Watson Health 100 Top Hospitals® national benchmark series. Being named a 50 Top Cardiovascular Hospitals winner means that Sentara RMH outperforms its peers on measures that include inpatient and extended outcomes, clinical processes, and efficiency and cost for common cardiovascular conditions and cardiac interventions. 

Sentara RMH also has received the American College of Cardiology’s NCDR Chest Pain–MI Registry Platinum Performance Achievement Award for 2019, and is one of only 225 hospitals nationwide to receive this award. The platinum award recognizes Sentara RMH’s commitment to, and success in implementing, a higher standard of care for heart attack patients, and also signifies that Sentara RMH has reached an aggressive goal of treating these patients to standard levels of care as outlined by the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association’s clinical guidelines.


Meet Dr. Yuriy Zhukov

Yuriy Zhukov, MD, is medical director of Sentara Cardiothoracic Surgery Specialists. His clinical interests include adult cardiac surgery, structural heart disease, mitral valve repair, transcatheter aortic valve replacement, surgical treatment of atrial fibrillation, coronary revascularization and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. 

Dr. Zhukov graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine and completed his general surgery residency and a fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery at the Mayo Clinic. He is board-certified in general surgery and cardiothoracic surgery. 

In his spare time, Dr. Zhukov is a private pilot and enjoys skydiving. 

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