5 Questions With a Cardiologist and Author
Why medicine, why cardiology?
The part of the world where I grew up — Pakistan and South Asia in general — is home to some of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. I felt there was so much happening in the world of cardiology that wasn’t being told. There were many advances and there were so many wins that we were achieving through our work. I wanted to be the person to witness those stories and, perhaps, even change how they ended.
The heart is one of the most intensely studied organs. What are some of the mysteries it still harbors?
We understand the heart probably better than any other organ, yet one of the biggest gaps in our understanding and treatment of heart disease is our inability to reverse damage. In a literal way, the heart is not good at healing, and we have very few means to help it recover function. This represents a vast frontier.
What are we still getting wrong about the heart and heart disease despite all the great advances in cardiology?
Although we have more tools to help prevent and treat heart disease than we have for almost any other condition, most people who need the therapies aren’t getting them. Those people are more likely to belong to groups vulnerable to poor outcomes. Women are less likely to receive evidence-based therapies for heart disease. Black Americans are less likely to receive evidence-based therapies for heart disease. The same is true if you live in a rural area, if you are living in poverty, if you don’t speak English. Heart disease is increasingly more an economic condition than a medical one.
In your books, you explore themes that are scientific and medical but also social and philosophical. What inspires this work?
Among historical thinkers, I am perhaps most inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. He was able to work across disciplines, to be an artist, a storyteller, a physicist, an astronomer, and to bring them together in a way that moved our understanding of being in a powerful way. People like Leonardo used all their faculties to advance our understanding of what it means to be a human being, what it means to be here on Earth as part of nature. This is what I try to do in my books. If we try to isolate things too much, we become blind to the truth.
What does the writer Haider Warraich teach the physician Haider Warraich?
The writer teaches me to always observe and take note of the details, to inhabit the moment that I share with my patient and to see what that moment means in their life. I think this type of broad view engenders empathy, and empathy is the core of not just what I feel helps me become a better writer, but what helps me be a better physician and a better teacher. Writing has allowed me to be more present for my patients, more curious as a physician, and more empathetic as a teacher. Writing has allowed me to find greater meaning in my work.
Ekaterina Pesheva is the director of science communications and media relations in the Office of Communications and External Relations at HMS.
Image by John Soares