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Dr. Sekela's Biography

Dr. Sekela was born and raised on the California coast.  He grew up in a rural farming community on the central coast.  He went attended a Catholic elementary and middle school learning discipline and self control from the teachers and administrators who, at that time, were Catholic nuns. 

His grandparents were immigrants to America, English not being their first language.  He was taught that America was the land of opportunity and self reliance was emphasized.  His parents and grandparents emphasized responsibility for one’s own actions as well as work ethic and pride in one’s work.Sekela in surgery

He attended the local public high school where he had a 4.0 grade point average and was captain of the varsity football team for his junior and senior years.

Financial considerations were tantamount in trying to choose a college, because of the sacrifice by his parents, their strong belief in education and some taunting and pushing by an Uncle, he was able to attend Stanford University where he received his undergraduate degree in biological sciences.  He initially went to college believing he would major in mathematics and become involved with a relatively new field of computer science.  During his early years in college, he became interested in mathematic modeling of electrical current flow through nerve cells.  This led to taking elective classes in biology, neurosciences and psychology.  After attending a lecture series class by a very well known professor of biology in the spring of his freshman year, he decided that he would try to get into medical school. 

In his sophomore year, he was given the privilege of participating in a postgraduate level class, performing experiments in electrical current flow through excitable cells and was introduced not only to electrical current flow and nerve cells but also in muscle cells.  This ultimately led to his interest in the physiology of failing heart muscle. 

He was convinced that he would take the path of becoming a basic scientist and not a clinical physician and was accepted in medical school as a member of the MD/PhD program sponsored by the National Institute of Health.

He attended medical school at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.  During the first two years of medical school, it became clear that the PhD arm of the program did not have great appeal and he dropped out of this portion of his training.  The second year of medical school included an animal lab dedicated to introducing students to some aspects of surgery, he was given the opportunity to attempt to sew an artificial blood vessel to a blood vessel in a dog.  Of the over 150 medical students who attempted, he was the only one who could do it the first time and duplicate this four times despite the instructors thinking that it was a fluke.  After the lab one of the resident in training, a teaching assistant approached him; told him that he had a talent and really should go into surgery.  What seemed like a minor statement on the part of a resident teaching assistant changed the path of career.

Professional Education

Dr. Sekela spent the last six months of medical school on the west coast taking electives at Stanford University and the University of San Francisco.  He had made the decision to apply for a surgical residency and interviewed primarily in the western U.S. and looked at two programs outside of his native California, Tucson Arizona and in Houston, Texas.  He was so impressed by the program in Houston led by Dr. Michael DeBakey that despite a strong desire to stay on the west coast he took his general surgery residency in Houston, Texas.  This program had a strong emphasis on vascular and cardiac surgery, as well as an emphasis on patients with failing hearts.  During the general surgery program, fully one-third of the time was dealing with patients with cardiac surgery and in the operating room with some of the giants and early innovators in the cardiac surgical field.  Half of the time was dedicated to dealing with trauma surgery and many of the techniques that were used in trauma surgery were directly translateable into controlling major blood vessels and learning techniques that could be used in major aortic surgery.  Of the 21 young physicians who had been accepted into the general surgery program, 6 others including Dr. Sekela completed their training and received their certificates to sit for their general surgery boards. 

During the five years of every other night call, many times getting no more than six hours of sleep every 48 hours, the young doctor questioned his decision to continue training.  As the final 18 months of his training ensued, he decided to indeed go ahead to be trained as a subspecialist in cardiovascular and thoracic surgery and was accepted at the University of Kentucky in Lexington for a cardiothoracic surgical residency program.  He first moved to Lexington, Kentucky in 1986.  He spent two years at the University of Kentucky during a very tumultuous time for the medical center, learning and extending the basics of his training from Houston into actual first surgeon cardiac and thoracic surgical procedures at U.K. 

Professional Experience

Sekela in surgeryFollowing his training at the University of Kentucky, he sat for board exams in cardiothoracic surgery andbecame a board certified thoracic surgeon.  He moved back to Houston.  He had been recruited by his old faculty to help primarily with their cardiothoracic (that is heart/lung) transplant program.  As a junior faculty member, he co-directed the Baylor College of Medicine cardiopulmonary transplant program with Dr. George Noon.  He spent 2½ years in Houston doing at least three major cardiac cases a day plus cardiac and lung transplants as well as heart lung transplants.  He was actively involved in the immunosuppression as well as pre and postoperative care of these patients.  As part of this transplant program, he began exposed to mechanical circulatory support (artificial hearts), not only in the lab, but in human implantation and gained a great deal of experience in laboratory animals and implanting total artificial hearts in very sick patients.

After 2½ years, Dr. Sekela was feeling the need to strike out on his own and emerged from the shadow of his tremendous mentors.  The University of Kentucky had attempted to form a transplant program for their cardiac unit, but had been unsuccessful and needed a lead surgeon.  Dr. Sekela’s wife was from Kentucky and they both felt that moving back to the university would not only be challenging, but would be the right move for them and their new family.  In 1991, Dr. Sekela returned to the University of Kentucky as a faculty member starting, from ground zero, the University of Kentucky Heart, Lung and Heart/Lung Transplant Program. He built and directed this program for five years not only helping the university build the infrastructure for the transplant program, but helping the local arm of the national organ sharing system build, extend and grow to fulfill the needs to the people of the Commonwealth.

In 1996, Dr. Sekela became somewhat frustrated with the university and felt that he did not have the ability or the resources to continue to expand and grow the program as he had envisioned.  (The University of Kentucky had a different take on it of course.)  He, therefore, elected to leave the university and establish a private practice in Lexington.

Dr. Sekela joint Surgical Associations of Lexington in 1996 and based his practice at Central Baptist and St. Joseph Hospital.  As years have evolved, his practice now is primarily based at St. Joseph Hospital.  He is now the president of Surgical Associates and has been since 2002. 

Dr. Sekela and Surgical Associates have been cornerstones of establishing cardiac surgery in London, Kentucky helping that program get started recruiting their first full-time surgeon and assuring that quality care has been delivered in London for a number of years.  He and his partners have also been involved with the establishment of cardiac surgical services in Hazard, Kentucky. 

From a professional standpoint, he has been committed to keeping near the cutting edge of the cardiac surgical world focusing primarily on adult cardiac surgical procedures and general thoracic procedures.

He has a vast experience in surgical revascularization of the heart, both primary coronary bypass grafting and reoperative surgical intervention, vast experience in dealing with patients who have severely depressed heart function, severe valvular heart disease that have been operated on multiple times before and who some surgeons have deemed to be borderline candidates for operation.

He continues to treat a number of patients with heart failure from structural disease and continues to evolve surgical technique.

Most recently, looking at surgical data from around the country and reviewing his own surgical results from over 25 years of practice, it has become clear that most patients who require bypass surgery should have the use of both internal mammary arteries.  He also feels that minimally invasive surgical procedures now can be done for many cardiac surgical operations including mitral valve surgery, aortic valve surgery and in some instances coronary bypass surgery. 

Because of this belief in trying to reduce surgical trauma, he as launched at St. Joseph Hospital a minimally invasive aortic valve program and now has performed over 150 aortic valves through 5-6 cm incisions.  For the past 1½ years, he has converted these incisions to a more lateral chest wall incision to avoid opening the breast bone.

He also launched a robotic cardiac surgical program at St. Joseph Hospital.  This was done in a stepwise manner, teaching a now very experienced surgical team, some of the techniques which would be required for using the robot.  The robot has now been used very successfully for mitral valve surgery, atrial fibrillation surgery and some forms of coronary artery bypass surgery.  As the team gains experience, the surgical applications of the robot will grow.Physician's Assistants

The advantages of these lesser invasive techniques have reallybeen seen in the high risk patients, the elderly, the frail and those patients who have other medical issues which would make sternal splitting incision very difficult to heal. 

Those patients without these issues have a much, much smoother postoperative course. 

Into the future, Dr. Sekela believes that there are multiple dramatic advances on the horizon including the use of the patient’s own stem cells to actually regain muscle function of the heart and, with some work, using the intracellular matrix as a scaffolding to regenerate patients’ own tissue.  He believes that the future of cardiac surgery is bright and wants to continue to incorporate these techniques into his practice and to the practice of his partners.