Progress 2018: Region’s doctors cite sense of community, responsibility

By Joy Frank-Collins

Special to the Times

Every day across Appalachia, small hospitals battle a perception issue: That the doctors who work there have sub-par skills or couldn’t cut it at a larger, more metropolitan health care facility.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, said Dr. Srini Vasan, radiation oncologist with the Memorial Health System’s Strecker Cancer Center’s Department of Oncology.

A few years ago, Vasan, a long-tenured physician in the community who trained in India and England before coming to the U.S., turned down a position as an associate professor at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the top-ranked facilities in the country affiliated with Harvard Medical School. He had numerous reasons to take the job, two of which were his college-age children who were living in Boston at the time. But, he felt his place was serving the residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“A lot of people would want to take that job in Boston,” he said. “But I can do better here and put my skills to better use here.”

That sense of responsibility to community and desire to expand services available to area residents is a common theme among many of the physicians within Marietta Memorial Hospital from those who have been with the health system for decades to the hospital’s newest recruit.

Dr. Deven Reddy joined the Memorial Health System six months ago. The South African neurosurgeon, 44, attended medical school at home before opting to move to Canada to practice family medicine. He eventually changed career paths to study neurosurgery at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and completed a fellowship at the University of Toronto.

He weighed a number of factors before deciding the Memorial Health System was the right next stop.

“One of the biggest factors for me was the work environment and the potential. The hospital was looking to move in the direction where neurosciences would be at the forefront and they were looking to invest in it in terms of resources and staff and from that perspective, it looked like it could be potentially an exciting opportunity to start up a practice,” he said.

He admitted that the move from the fourth largest city in North America to Marietta required some acceptance from his wife and two children, who attend Marietta High School and Marietta Middle School.

“We miss it, of course, but we’ve lived in different parts of the country in Canada, in cities and small towns and kind of had a sense of what this would be like,” he said. “It’s been an adjustment for them, but they’ve done well up until now.”

Opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the hospital’s growing neurosciences program is what attracted Dr. Michail Vasilakis to Marietta, too.

After studying medicine in his native Greece, Vasilakis transferred out of general surgery and into a neurosurgery program in Peoria, Ill. After six years, he went back home and worked for the government in an Athens-based hospital that served around two million people. Greece was in the midst of a financial crisis and as a result, the health care system struggled.

“I decided to look for a place where I could have what I needed to practice,” he said. “And I found this place.”

He interviewed at six hospitals, deciding on Marietta Memorial Hospital based on the integrity of its leadership team, he said.

“I chose this place because I found during the interview that these people were very honest. What they were telling me was the truth. It was not like, ‘This is paradise,’ or anything like that. They were telling me their strengths and what they need to do to improve and I liked that very much. And then I met a few people during the interviews and I saw honesty in their eyes, that’s why I’m here,” he added.

He and his wife were looking for a smaller city in which to raise their three sons, but given his specialty, he had to find a hospital that had the capacity to bring in enough patients to serve his practice. He’s found that and more in Marietta.

“Everything I want to treat is here, I just love this…You’re participating in the birth of a department and you can build it the way you want it. It’s pretty good,” he said.

It was that ability to build a practice and relationships with patients that motivated Dr. Gabe Maijub to join the Memorial Health System as a primary care physician five years ago. Maijub has been in the community for 23 years, having come to Marietta from St. Joseph’s in Parkersburg. Like many of the doctors at MMH, he is always seeking a challenge. At the age of 46, Maijub was the director of pathology at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, but wanted more. And so he started over, entering a residency program to go into family practice.

After working for years in Memphis, he had a desire to work in a rural community where he could have more of an impact on his patients. But he found that the small town in Indiana where he’d moved lacked the facilities to make the kind of difference he was hoping for. He found the balance he sought in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“That is the essence of the practice of medicine, what you are able to provide to your neighbors,” he said.

For Dr. Dan Breece, the idea of knowing that he would be there to offer assistance to his neighbors in their time of need, and that his colleagues would be there to help him or his family, made Marietta the right place for his family’s “last move.”

The Huntington, W.Va., native went to the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine through the U.S. Navy’s Health Professional’s Scholarship Program, which provides funding for medical school in return for military service. After finishing medical school, he served at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia, at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Parris Island in South Carolina. Then, after the birth of his two children, he left the military and moved to Saginaw, Mich., to train in emergency medicine.

He liked Huntington, but wanted somewhere more rural that offered him the chances to practice emergency medicine that challenged him in a setting that encouraged him to grow.

He found that in Marietta where he is now the head of the emergency department as well as chief of staff.

“When I started here in 2010 we had about three emergency medicine-trained physicians and I was one of them. Now in the two emergency departments together we have about 22 physicians and 20 of them are emergency medicine-trained and board certified. That is amazing because now we can deliver high quality emergency care locally, to everyone,” he said.

When he left the military, Breece’s father-in-law told him to let him know when he’d made his last move so that he and his wife could relocate to be near their daughter and grandchildren. He made that call a year after joining the Memorial Health System.

“I love a rural community that has a little bit of a slower pace but still allows you the opportunity to get what you want out of life,” he said. “This is a safe community to live in, there are good schools, good restaurants, good shopping.

“And if you want more…it’s just two hours away in just about any direction.”