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New faculty

Welcome, Arturo “AJ” Cardounel, M.D., Ph.D., Katherine M. “Kate” Klein, M.D., Hamang Patel, M.D., and Sangeeta Shah, M.D.

Headshot of Arturo “AJ” Cardounel, M.D., Ph.D. Dr. Arturo “AJ” Cardounel

Arturo “AJ” Cardounel, M.D., Ph.D.

If home is where the heart is, then Dr. Arturo “AJ” Cardounel is the ideal specialist in the ideal place.

In joining VCU Health, Cardounel has returned to Richmond after completing his cardiothoracic surgery residency at the esteemed University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The local terrain is very familiar: He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Richmond and his Ph.D. from VCU’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

His doctoral and medical degrees reflect a passion for both science and patient care.

“VCU Health has a rich history as a center for innovation in surgery,” Cardounel said. “This philosophy of innovation, combined with world-class clinical resources, provides the ideal environment to deliver care to our patients.”

Cardounel’s cardiovascular research aligns with his clinical interest in heart failure. He explores the molecular mechanisms involved in right ventricular dysfunction, which often develops following the more heavily researched left-sided failure. (While the left ventricle may not pump enough blood around the body, the right ventricle may be too weak to pump enough blood to the lungs.) Contributing factors can include high blood pressure in the lungs, pulmonary embolism, sepsis and acute lung injury.

Cardounel is particularly interested, though, in how those efforts improve outcomes in cardiac care. “I bring a deep devotion to translational research and the bench-to-bedside approach for discovery,” he said, referring to the process of taking research results from the laboratory (bench) into the clinic for the direct benefit of patients.

Headshot of Katherine M. “Kate” Klein, M.D Dr. Katherine M. “Kate” Klein

Katherine M. “Kate” Klein, M.D.

Dr. Katherine M. “Kate” Klein, knows the prospect of heart surgery is scary.

That’s why, beyond being a skilled and knowledgeable surgeon, she believes it’s important to get to know the patient as a person, hear their concerns and walk them through treatment options — which may, or may not, include surgery.

“Getting to care for a patient in some of their sickest, scariest moments is a real honor, and it is one of the greatest privileges to help alleviate concerns or make a real change in someone’s life,” she said. “Together, we are going to review your options, decide how to best move forward and go over the details of the decision.”

As a cardiothoracic surgeon, she chose one of the most demanding surgical specialties, requiring a lifelong dedication to “be the best you can be.” Klein is part of a growing team at VCU Health focused on treating those with advanced heart failure, which is diagnosed in more than 670,000 people each year. In addition to HF, she treats an array of other cardiac conditions, including blocked vessels or abnormal valves. She specializes in advanced therapies, including heart transplantation and implanting assistive mechanical devices that pump blood to the rest of the body.

The field of cardiac surgery has advanced significantly in recent years, allowing for fewer open procedures or those requiring a cardiopulmonary bypass (where a machine takes over heart and lung function), in lieu of minimally invasive techniques performed with small instruments and cameras, and resulting in faster recovery and less scarring. Clinical studies are also advancing HF therapy with more medications and smaller implantable devices.

“Our operations demand perfection and the willingness to learn, grow and be humble that you get to have the best job in the world,” she said. “The most rewarding part of my job is getting to know the patients and their families and seeing how our treatment plan has changed their lives.”

Klein joined VCU Health after completing a fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery at VCU Medical Center, where she also spent six months at Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center treating veterans and four months at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Headshot of Hamang Patel, M.D., FACC Dr. Hamang Patel

Hamang Patel, M.D., FACC

Dr. Hamang Patel is a cardiologist specializing in heart failure and heart transplant care. He helps patients who have weak hearts decrease their symptoms with medication and surgery.

As part of Pauley Heart Center’s heart failure team, Patel collaborates closely with adult and pediatric cardiologists, cardiothoracic surgeons, transplant specialists and vascular surgeons, as well as interventional cardiologists and imaging specialists. As a team, they provide individualized care for patients of all ages, with every type of heart disease — from kids with congenital defects to adults requiring aortic surgery or transplants.

“It’s an exceptional team at VCU Health, where we have experts in every aspect of heart care working together to provide the most comprehensive, individualized treatment plan,” Patel said. “Here, there is never a doubt that you or your family will receive the best care possible.”

Patel joins VCU Health from Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans. His primary clinical focus is with VCU Health’s heart failure and heart transplantation programs, working with team members from Hume-Lee Transplant and Pauley Heart centers. 

Transplantation, he notes, is a last-resort option that brings with it a lifelong journey for both the patient and their family, along with physical, emotional and personal challenges. “Our field is always built on the fact that weak hearts should be optimized as much as possible, as transplantation is a gift, and we can’t just take a heart off the shelf,” Patel said.

The passion Patel has for cardiology goes beyond bedside care. He has participated in more than 60 clinical trials over the course of his career related to congestive heart failure, cardiac transplantation, and pulmonary hypertension. Advances in medications, which require such studies, can ultimately improve a patient’s quality of life, reduce the need for surgery and improve surgical outcomes. Patel has also served as lead author and contributed to numerous publications in the American Journal of Cardiology, Journal of the CardioMetabolic Syndrome and other respected medical journals.

Headshot of Sangeeta Shah, M.D., FACC, FASE Dr. Sangeeta Shah

Sangeeta Shah, M.D., FACC, FASE

Congenital heart defects develop before birth and are consequently most often associated with children. But the treatment of congenital heart disease doesn’t stop at the end of childhood.

Adults born with structural defects in the heart must continue to manage their health throughout their lives. And that’s where Dr. Sangeeta Shah has dedicated her medical training and career: caring for grown-ups who have previously undergone childhood heart surgery or other cardiac procedures and those born with syndromes associated with heart defects. “Currently, there are more adults than there are children with congenital heart disease because of the amazing care by pediatric surgeons and cardiologists,” said Shah, the newest director of Pauley’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease program, established in 2020. “It is important for patients to learn about their heart history so they can be an advocate for themselves.”

It is equally important, she notes, that ACHD patients see a provider specifically trained to care for those over age 18 with the condition (which is rare, and diagnosed in fewer than 200,000 infants or fetuses each year). Shah’s vision is to create the first accredited congenital heart disease program in Virginia. Such designation, accredited through the Adult Congenital Heart Association, can enhance the standard of care to meet the needs of the growing ACHD population in this relatively new medical field.

Pauley Heart Center is Virginia’s top-ranked hospital for cardiology and heart care and offers the full spectrum of clinical cardiac services, from consultation to treatment of the most complex conditions, among them congenital heart disease. Through its affiliation with VCU Health, Pauley offers the most advanced levels of clinical expertise required to care for ACHD patients, including imaging, stress testing, electrophysiology, cardiac catheterization, an advanced heart failure program, and surgical procedures.

Shah comes to Richmond via New Orleans, where she led the adult congenital heart disease program at Ochsner Medical Center. On top of her cardiovascular imaging specialty in cardiology, she has additional training in ACHD care from MedStar Washington Hospital Center – Children’s National. Shah has authored several articles for ACHD, lobbied on Capitol Hill to advocate for the appropriate care of adults living with the condition, and was featured as one of New Orleans Magazine’s best doctors. She is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and American Society of Echocardiography.

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