Health Care

Mending Broken Hearts The founder of Cardiovascular Institute of the South embraces innovation.

by Kailey Broussard

Dr. Craig Walker

From opening one of the world’s most innovative heart hospitals and research institutions to authoring and coauthoring articles in more than 60 medical journals, Dr. Craig Walker has seen the world rage on to progress, and he relayed the importance of change and creation to UL Lafayette’s spring 2016 graduates.

“The internet has destroyed traditional geographic boundary protection,” Walker said during his keynote speech. “We now must compete with the entire world. Telephones being answered in India, manufacturing outsourced to low-cost countries, telemedicine practiced from remote locations with electronic devices that can be evaluated from anywhere in the world are just a few of the examples of how the world has changed.”

For Walker, change has been his soup du jour since his one-man mission to improve cardiovascular health grew into the 16-location Cardiovascular Institute of the South.

Founded in 1983 as the Houma Heart Clinic, Walker’s startup clinic trickled into larger waters after a stint with stent research. The clinic’s research attracted more physicians until expansion became an obvious solution. Under the same name it goes by today, CIS expanded to Thibodaux in 1985 and Morgan City by 1986.

With its once-tiny staff of Walker, a secretary and a nurse, the clinic has expanded to more than 40 physicians in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, with five locations in partnership with Lafayette General Medical Center, three of which are in Lafayette and the other two in Breaux Bridge and Crowley. Together, the locations serve the nation’s epicenter for research. CIS is working on more than 50 different research projects, and Walker, still stationed in Houma, continues to explore new stent technology and vanguard tools.

“We have done some of the first-inworld work in a research project with a guide wire that measures the size of a blood vessel,” Walker tells ABiz. “It can give us a digital reading within .1 millimeter so we know exactly the size of a vessel.” According to Walker, this work will soon be published.

The Nicholls State University alumnus and Harvard Medical School research fellow’s is also working on a project to remove blood clots and a company that utilizes ultrasound technology to help dilate blood vessels.

But what, really, is the future of cardiovascular care? For Walker, it’s better prevention.

“I’m the guy that people come to after many people have been told that they have no other options, and I have to find a way to treat them,” Walker says. “Clearly, that’s not the best way to treat. The best way to improve, if we’re looking at the future, is to prevent the disease in the first place.”

A monumental aspect of improvement is education, such as preventing people from smoking, ensuring people watch their weight and keeping their blood sugar under control. However, for those who do need treatment, Walker predicts safer alternatives to intervention techniques.

“I think it’s going to be further and further improvement of less-invasive treatments,” he says. “At this point, drug-relieving coronary stents ... have rates as good as bypass surgery. I suspect we will continue to see that improve in the future.”

Another sector of improvement is the advent of internet communication. “Every morning, I receive images from outside clinics,” says Walker. “Some of those are well outside of the United States, some from China, some from Latin America. Health physicians send in an individual image asking me if I have any suggestions about approaches that they haven’t thought of. They may tell me what approach they’re planning to use; we can make suggestions about things that may or may not work.

“These are kinds of things that exist now,” Walker continues, “and I think they represent the things that are a real win for our patients.”

Also with the internet comes the opportunity for CIS clinicians to create better educational and screening programs.

“I’m pretty pleased with what we have done and fairly happy with the success we’ve had. I’m not planning to change anything very different in terms of my approach. I do, however, plan to change a lot to go with changes that will occur in medicine,” Walker says.

Walker told the approximately 1,600 UL graduates gathered at the Cajundome that the only way to survive in any field is to have a willingness to grow and the tenacity to withstand change.

“Success will require constant continued education, self-evaluation and readjustment of goals,” he said. “The ability to embrace change and innovation will be a crucial asset.”