Ask Dr. William Roberts about his newly merited Lifetime Achievement award from the American College of Cardiology, and he’ll tell you, “The key is survival.”
That is, outliving anyone else in his field, the Highland Park resident joked.
More accurately, the executive director of Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute received the award on April 4 for his professional contributions and for being a role model.
“It is a rarity to have the opportunity to work closely with such a stellar cardiac pathologist who is also an exemplary clinical research investigator and who is truly known to be the ‘father of cardiovascular pathology,’” said Dr. Kevin Wheelan, chief of medical staff of Baylor Hamilton Heart and Vascular Hospital, in a press release. “To work with him on a daily basis is an honor. Dr. Roberts’ contributions to the cardiology world have been far-reaching.”
A remarkable aspect of his practice is that he lets transplant patients take a look at their old, or “native,” heart.
“I’ve spoken with about 65 people now who have had a heart transplant,” Roberts said. “It’s interesting to interview them with the heart in front of both of us. They usually bring their families.”
This practice began years ago when Roberts was stopped in the hall by a patient who asked to see his old heart. The result of seeing the damaged heart produces indifference in most patients, Roberts said.
“I try to tell them, ‘You’re very fortunate to have a heart transplant,’” Roberts said. “Virtually all of these people have a transplant because of bad heart failure. A lot of them have a lot of fat adipose tissue on their heart. So I tell them, ‘Don’t get this on your new heart.’”
Roberts said around half the patients who have heart transplants need them because of coronary disease. That is, most have had a heart attack because of their dietary and living habits.
“If everyone in the nation lost, on average, about 10 to 20 pounds, we would see the health of our nation skyrocket,” Roberts said.
Now in his 24th year at Baylor, Roberts said he still feels excited every day to study the heart and its diseases.
“I’m involved with trying to come up with a new idea every day. That’s not easy, but it’s fun,” Roberts said. “We have all this data, and it becomes a question of, ‘How do you handle it, how do you package it, how do you convince others it’s correct?’ When I stop at a traffic light, I’m trying to figure out how to put this data together and figure out what it means.”
Roberts also serves with passion as the editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Cardiology and Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings. He’s in the 34th year of being the Journal editor – a position usually held for five years at most, he said.
“We publish 40 articles every three months. Focusing on manuscripts and publishing them is not easy. I think it’s one of the most difficult of professional activities,” Roberts said. “But it’s very exciting.”
Roberts warns people about the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For an organ to beat 75 times a minute every day of our lives is a miraculous system we must charge ourselves to preventatively protect, he said.
“The more educated, the more health-knowledgeable one is, the healthier one is,” Roberts said. “It’s our responsibility to keep our arteries open.”