Family traditions are usually a welcome gift passed down through generations. However, some traditions, such as heart disease, aren't so welcome.
Robert (Bob) O'Brien's father passed away at an early age from a heart-related illness. So Bob decided to find a way to change the future for his family by establishing the Robert and Casey O'Brien Heart and Vascular Fellowship through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
"I have inherited a few of the conditions that are part of the heart disease umbrella," Bob says. "We felt by establishing a fellowship, we were giving to a specific purpose and outcome versus making a less defined donation. We hope a fellowship is one more tool to help create a better cardiologist and to provide better care for the patients they serve."
A fellowship is a training program that physicians undertake after completing residency training. It provides specialized training in a specific area of medicine or surgery. The O’Brien Fellowship provides a focused training experience in another institution either inside or outside the United States that enables trainees to expand knowledge and skills gained at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Remote Experience Offers Far-Reaching Benefits
Since Bob and his wife, Casey, established their fellowship in 2011, several physician fellows have been awarded funds to experience unique training. One former fellow, Kathryn Lindley, MD, established a Women and Heart Disease Program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital that focuses on several key cardiology issues, including heart disease and pregnancy.
Most recently, Tracy Hagerty, MD, traveled to Alaska through the O’Brien Fellowship to study cardiovascular disease in Native American Indians and Alaska Natives. Considering Barnes-Jewish serves patients from around the world with dozens of cultures and beliefs about medical care, Dr. Hagerty’s experience is valuable and timely.
"The diverse population in Alaska defies generalization,” Dr. Hagerty says. “Each group has a distinct ancestry, language, food and culture. I learned a great deal about the impact of lifestyle on cardiovascular health. I saw first-hand the challenges of maintaining a traditional lifestyle under the growing pressure and availability of less healthy alternatives.
Planes, Boats and Procedures
Through these experiences, Dr. Hagerty began to understand the barriers to providing traditional health care—whether in Alaska or in cities around the country.
"To understand why patients take their medication or not, embrace or ignore advice, or even return to a clinic or hospital for a visit or a procedure, we must view this through the context of their lives, their beliefs, their access to care, and their financial ability to make the changes we're proposing," Dr. Hagerty says. "Through my medical career, I want to explore how we can better partner with our patients to achieve a healthy life."
Dr. Hagerty recognizes the rare opportunity she was given to follow her passion and learn through the O’Brien Fellowship. "I'm incredibly grateful to the O'Briens for this experience," she says. "Their generous gift allowed me to reach far beyond the borders of St. Louis, the Midwest and even the ‘lower 48,’ as Alaskans call it. My time in Alaska offered a breadth and depth of experience that I had not and probably could not have anticipated."