UNC Surgery Profile: John Ikonomidis, MD, PhD (Physicians Working Together to Give the Best Care)

My name is John Ikonomidis. I’m a
cardiothoracic surgeon. I’m the chief of the division of
cardiothoracic surgery at UNC. I’ve always told people that I was going to be a doctor and
I was going to be a surgeon I sort of, never wavered from that. The thing that I love about cardiac surgery is that I’ve always said it and it’s a
fact is that what happens in the operating room has a direct effect on
how the patient does, and if the heart is fixed, the pump, which the heart is. If you
fix the pump, the patient usually gets better. Not always but the vast majority
of the time, which is very gratifying. The heart is this dynamic structure that
it beats and it keeps the circulation alive and what’s incredible
is that our our evolution of applied physiology has allowed us to invent this
bypass machine, which does the work of the heart and lungs. Which enables us to
hook the patient onto the machine, stop the heart for a period of time, do
complex operations and then start the heart back up again; all under support of
this machine. And then we can let the heart take control of the circulation
hopefully, repaired. I bring to the table about 20 years experience and I’ve done a lot of cardiac surgery of different types during that period. I do clinical cardiac surgery like
coronary bypass operations, valve operations. I do
a lot of thoracic aortic surgeries. I’ve also been very heavily involved in
transplant and heart failure, so I’ve done a lot of heart transplants, a lot of
heart failure operations. So if you come specifically to see me, it’s likely that the condition you have I’ve seen before and I’ve treated before. It’s not foreign to me. But even more important than that is that when you come to UNC, you’re
coming to a tremendous institution that is populated with individuals that have
tremendous experience, tremendously collaborative and they all work together
to give the patient the best experience they can possibly have. Everybody brings different levels of expertise to the table and so having a group of physicians all working together with the common
goal of improving patient care just makes sense. And it creates a
situation where every possibility, every nuance of care is thought of, and every complication, and every issue is picked up early and dealt with properly
and promptly and so at the end of the day that translates into the best results. UNC is the sixth highest funded, NIH
funded, University in the country and it’s the number one public university in
the country. And the resource structure here is incredible. The culture of clinical care here is extremely collaborative and very collegial and
very refreshing, honestly. I’ve just found it to be a terrific place to
work. I felt in my career professionally and from a research perspective and also
from a clinical perspective has just thrived here with the terrific people
that are here. The biggest thing that we may bring to the table from our lab work
is to come up with a method of predicting the presence of aneurysms
just from a blood test. An aneurysm is what happens when an artery expands and gets larger than it should. If it expands to greater than 50% of its
normal size that’s considered an aneurysm and after it exceeds 50% it
poses a problem because the wall of the artery becomes weakened
and may burst or it may dissect which is another very terrible condition. It would be good to know in advance which patients have these. And in
patients that do have them it would be good to know things like how aggressive
is the aneurysm growing? How high is their risk of rupture? With the studies that we have done
we are working out techniques to be able to answer all those
questions just from a blood sample. The cardio thoracic surgical division
is divided into three sections. There’s the cardiac surgical
section, thoracic surgical section, and then the pediatric cardiac section. They’re all incredibly well trained very very skilled surgeons and I can
honestly say that I would have any one of them operate on the family
member of mine. I trust them. I’ve seen their results firsthand and
they’re all outstanding. They’re great people too.