The love for science and the desire to serve have been the pillars in the medical practice of Dr. Karen Rodríguez.
Dr. Karen Rodríguez, president of the scientific committee of the American College of Cardiology. Photo: Journal of Medicine and Public Health. Fabiola Plaza.
“My teachers in public school were extraordinary, they instilled in me a love for science, well, a cell was a wonder, a miracle of life.” Dr. Karen Rodríguez, president of the scientific committee of the American College of Cardiology, confesses that since she was a child she felt admiration for the functioning of the vascular system, especially how the heart worked in an automatic and sustained way in favor of life. Therefore, if she wanted to dedicate herself to something, she was clear that this would be related to heart care.
When she was little, she said that she wanted to become a thoracic surgeon, but on the way to university she realized that serving and caring could be practiced more from internal medicine and then cardiology. Today she has no doubt: “if she were born again, she would be a cardiologist again”, well, this has been one of the most beautiful satisfactions of her life, indicates Rodríguez.
The evolution of treatments in his career
There are a number of recent treatments that weren’t available before, so he had to see patients who couldn’t be helped, because they had a problem and they wouldn’t tolerate open heart surgery, but today these patients can be given help, do valve implants, through a limb, for example, and improve their quality of life
These patients of 80, 85 or 90 years can improve after these procedures. It is a satisfaction for the specialist, since it not only helps the patient itself, but also the whole family enjoys the company of their loved one for longer and with a better quality of life.
“Many times we cannot cure, but we can care,” says Rodríguez.
A race dominated by men
“I finished cardiology in 2011 and my thoughts were moving to the United States,” this was because cardiologists who were new to the community had difficulty finding providers in Puerto Rico. But a colleague helped him integrate into the practice, in addition to the dictates of his heart to stay with his people, his family and his community.
In the town where he joined, he found cardiologists with twenty or more years of career, mostly men; females were a smaller group. However: “as a woman I have never felt excluded from activities,” she says, since respect has always prevailed.
In Puerto Rico, as in other Latin American countries, there is a high prevalence of diabetes, which is equivalent to cardiovascular disease because it affects the blood vessels that are in the heart, head and periphery.
Patients could have symptoms such as stroke, congestive heart failure, lack of oxygen to the intestine, patients who develop kidney disease and end up on dialysis. Since diabetes is a disease with a high prevalence, the most common is to see patients with diabetes and high blood pressure, which complicates their organs.
The specialist lives her passion with dedication to her patients. Photo: Journal of Medicine and Public Health. Fabiola Plaza.
The goal of the medical community is to detect diabetes early and control it, since many patients come to the clinic after having lived with the disease for many years. “If we make early interventions, we will have healthier populations and reduce these cardiovascular conditions,” emphasizes the specialist.
Another outstanding aspect is the sedentary lifestyle that prevails in many societies today; In some regions of the island, patients often do not have access to appropriate places to be able to walk and do physical activities and, over the years, patients with more physical activity have fewer cardiovascular events, managing to maintain their independence for longer .
Therefore, there are several aspects that can be worked on to have good cardiovascular health and that these patients have a better quality of life.
Importance of multidisciplinary intervention
When it is suspected that a patient has risk factors that can increase the possibility of developing cardiovascular disease, this does not begin with a consultation with a cardiologist, but with the care of primary care physicians, for which it is important that they make a good examination of the patient, being their general practitioners.
Once they arrive at the cardiologist, they begin to see the risk factors that the patient has and how their quality of life can be improved. In many cases, the support of other specialists is required, such as endocrinologists -to manage diabetes, for example, or the thyroid when it affects the heart-; in other patients, they have kidney disease and intervention by nephrologists is required. In cardiology, a chain occurs, due to the organs that are involved.
At the community level, multidisciplinary intervention is important, since there are also patients whose memory is affected by their heart, so the presence of a neurologist is necessary. Similarly, nutritionists also play an important role in cardiology. “Cardiology is not a single specialty, but depends on a network of doctors who provide support,” explains the doctor.
Regarding the use of technology in medicine, the doctor acknowledges that the Internet has come to supply a significant amount of information that the patient has, since before people only had the testimony of others who had had similar conditions. Rodríguez loves it when a patient arrives educated, has read about her diagnosis, and walks in with specific questions about the condition. Now patients often arrive empowered.
Heart health for women and men
Most of the available clinical studies are based on cases with men, but it is known that men and women are different; As long as a woman has adequate estrogen levels, her cardiovascular system is protected, but this changes with the onset of menopause and is similar to the risk for men.
When a woman comes to the emergency room with chest pain, she should be treated the same as a man. Many times they are discharged, while men are given more aggressive management and remain hospitalized. This mentality, for Dr. Rodríguez, must be changed, since it has always been believed that hormones protect women, but when they reach 60 years of age, they must be treated the same as men.
He is a faithful believer of God and entrusts his life and his medical work. Photo: Journal of Medicine and Public Health. Fabiola Plaza.
There are women with more atypical symptoms than men, sometimes they only present nausea or vomiting and the doctor fails to look for other causes to establish the diagnosis. For this reason, a flag must be raised so that those women who arrive at the emergency rooms with chest pain have proper management and do not escape with an acute coronary syndrome, the specialist details.
The greatest daily satisfaction is getting to work, she believes in God, and entrusts her life to God to give her wisdom and help her patients, to prevent someone with an important condition from escaping her, since she feels driven to Help everyone who asks you.
Many patients feel that their life has changed after receiving treatment and they feel refreshed. This motivates her to prolong or improve the quality of life of her patients, regardless of the vicissitudes they have to face in medical practice.
“One has many beautiful anecdotes from patients. I had been a few years and I remember that a 60-year-old patient with a serious condition, with aortic dissection, consulted me, he had been to several hospitals and had received several evaluations, but none of the surgeons offered him help until he was referred to my consultation, I called the surgeons who had evaluated him and they confirmed that they could not help him, I asked for the hospital records, we transferred him from Puerto Rico to the United States and he underwent surgery, managing to live many more years,” recalls Dr. Rodríguez.
“We can give up or try to help, we should always try to help and knock on doors,” says the specialist.
Practice and family role
“When you are in medical school, you understand that where you are, you have a lot of work and sometimes we don’t know how to combine all that with the balance that is life, being a doctor, wife, daughter, niece, sister, granddaughter, and in time we become a mother; At this time is when my son needs me the most, however, in life everything is a balance, in this way we cannot neglect one of the most important treasures we have, which is the family, although patients are very important and a priority For me, when my family’s need comes, they compete very well because I try to combine that task of caring for my patients and my family. In each career that one is in, one must focus on establishing that balance”, concludes the doctor.