TulsaPeople Q&A: Dr. Hisashi Nikaidoh
A pediatric cardiac surgeon with a big heart
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Several decades ago you pioneered a special cardiac surgery — the Nikaidoh Procedure — that now bears your name. How did that come about?
The procedure does not have huge applicability, because there are not too many patients who truly need it. It’s for patients who have what is known as transposition, a congenital heart disease in which two great arteries — the aorta and the pulmonary artery — are coming out from the wrong ventricles. Today these are treated with an arterial switch operation, which is commonly practiced. But if someone has a small, narrow pulmonary valve, when we switch the artery this will become a small and narrow aortic valve, and they do not survive. So, some other operation is needed.
The Nikaidoh Procedure overcomes these problems?
I had to come up with an answer. If we cut the valve across into the hole between the two pumping chambers, then you have a huge opening, and we can move the aorta down into a new spot. A few weeks later I proposed that to a cardiologist in Dallas, who said it was very interesting, but that was it. Later he brought me a patient, a boy, in need of help. I talked to the family, and the parents asked if I had ever done this new procedure, and I said no. They asked if I thought it was a better operation, and I said yes. That boy is now well past 30 years old.
We saw that the aortic valve can be freed up all the way around and can be moved to a new position to make a direct connection from the left ventricle to the aorta, which did not exist until this surgery was designed.
You became medical director of the Children’s Hospital at Saint Francis in 2008. What attracted you to the role?
After working at the Children’s Medical Center in Dallas for 31 years … I was looking for a job, and this place extended welcoming arms. I was truly blessed. It has been very productive, not only for the hospital but also for my own personal growth.
In what way?
I have far fewer limitations here. If I pray with a family during our meeting in my office, or in the pre-op waiting room, or in the operating room, I feel far less interference or complaints or anything like that. I feel far more comfortable living day to day what I truly believe.
Last fall you received a Children’s Miracle Achievement Award from the Children’s Miracle Network. Tell us about that.
When I received the award, I said that we cardiac surgeons, as much as people might think we are givers of care, are far more receivers of generosity and support. Otherwise, we cannot accomplish this work. The hospital supports us, donors support the program and parents hand over their most precious possessions, their children, to our care. So, we are the recipients of generosity, kindness and trust. And all of that will bring success. Any success people see in me is not what I have accomplished; it is an accumulation of all that people have given me.
What is your sense of Tulsa as a community?
When I was in Texas I felt very comfortable with the people in west Texas, but not necessarily Dallas. West Texans are sturdy, independent, self-respecting and caring among themselves. I really liked them, and I feel the same way here. The people here are similarly independent and self-respecting, and they care about their neighbors. I really like that. That’s another blessing. And the same can be said of the hospital.
With all you have achieved, do you still have goals left to accomplish?
In 2009 I reached my 50th year since graduating medical school. My classmates had a big party in Tokyo, and I planned to go but didn’t. Only two weeks before, I lost hearing in one ear during a mission trip to Honduras. But I sent a message to my classmates, saying there are a few things still to accomplish. One is that I would like to see this children’s hospital become stable and functional, but also set the rail and direction so it will go on after I go away.
My second dream is this Honduras mission. We found a group of physicians willing to have a children’s heart program. We found a cardiologist, and we have almost finished teaching a heart surgeon, a man who is finishing his training in Guatemala. We found a generous benefactor in Honduras to pay for his training. So, my hope is that in another year or two Honduras will have a viable pediatric cardiac surgery program.
My third goal is to finish the book, and to get it published. And a fourth goal is that I should be a little better husband to my wife. We have been married 33 years in January.
What qualities make a good doctor?
I wish I could say I always had them. I was indeed at one time selfish, looking at my own achievement being more important than other concerns. But the most important quality to be a good physician is to be a good person.
What makes a person good?
You have to have a caring heart. That word, “caring,” is important to me. Somebody asked me, “What would you like to have on your epitaph?” I said, “If somebody can put ‘he cared,’ then I will be grateful.”
Interview has been condensed and edited.