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“It is the one field that most people run away from,” says Dr. Tracy Callister of cardiology. “I am interested in helping people.” 

Dr. Callister is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology, an internationally recognized leader in the field of cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular CT, a Diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine/Cardiovascular Disease and a member of The American College of Chest Physicians, The American Society of Nuclear Cardiology and The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. Dr. Callister attended David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, which preceded a cardiology fellowship at the University of Vermont where he trained in stents.

Attracted to the field of medicine and, specifically, cardiology early on, Dr. Callister intentionally chose a field with momentum. Dr. Frist, Sr., an HCA founder, invited Dr. Callister to Nashville, and in 1984 Dr. Callister formed Tennessee Heart & Vascular in Hendersonville, an area in which cardiology care was scarce. The cardiology center provides diagnostic testing and treatment of coronary heart disease, heart failure and hypertension, among other cardiac conditions, using the most advanced technology, and they have a quick test that can determine if you have heart disease in mere seconds. Dr. Callister has trained more than 4,000 doctors from across America, including fellows at Vanderbilt, and he is a leader in the field of cardiology. 

A doctor who is focused on both treatment and prevention of heart disease, Dr. Callister is our newest FACE of TriStar! 

Dr. Callister is an expert in the field of cardiology. He’s also our newest FACE of TriStar.

What attracted you to a career in cardiology?

Other trainees wanted to trade away their cardiology rotation. It is frightening, and it’s the area most doctors walk away from. It’s day and night work. My kids grew up knowing that Dad would go in on Christmas and nights and on their birthdays and not be at their soccer games. There is no time clock for heart diseases. You are signing up for 24/7 rotations. When you come in, you have minutes to a few hours to save a life. You are working with little, tiny tubes from outside the body, and you can mess up and tear a hole or miss a spot. You have high liability, and you are going to walk into peoples’ rooms and say, “I wasn’t able to save your husband or your father.” You have to move fast and make the right decisions. Most doctors say, “I don’t want that pressure, and I don’t want those hours.” I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I said, “Nobody wants to do that? Sign me up!”

Dr. Callister’s medical achievements make him a leader in the field of cardiology.

When it comes to heart health, where are we lacking awareness?

The biggest misperceptions fall into a couple categories. One is the symptom category. People expect that symptoms will be there — and there often aren’t symptoms — and they expect symptoms to be chest pain. Often, there are no symptoms, but when we go back and quiz people, symptoms come in the category of being tired or short-winded or having some kind of a pressure/tightness in the throat, chest, jaw, both arms or one arm. Women are more apt to miss the symptoms than men. The shortness of breath and tightness lasts minutes. If it lasts seconds, it isn’t your heart. If you are lucky, it eases off, but if it doesn’t ease off, a heart attack comes.

The second is that risk factors and your family history can predict heart disease. That’s just not true. We have heart attacks in skinny people, we have heart attacks in fat people. We have just as many heart attacks in people with high cholesterol as we do with low cholesterol — just as many in low blood pressure as high. There are risk factors for the progression of the disease, but people think, I am not in trouble because my family didn’t have it, or I don’t have these risk factors. Or on the flip side, they are convinced they have it because they have these risk factors.

We use two stories as archetypes to make the point. Winston Churchill smoked, had cholesterol over 300. He had high blood pressure, drank, ate like a pig and had stress. He lived into his late 80s and didn’t have any heart trouble because he was not prone to a build-up in his arteries. Jim Fixx, one of the originators of the marathon craze who wrote books on marathon running, a vegetarian, had a healthy family history and very low cholesterol, was dead at 52. We have athletes who drop dead, and we have heavy people who live into old age.

Another misperception is, “I can beat it naturally.” That is a big mistake. I have to be gentle in how I say this to people. It is a normal thing for human beings to want to be in control. I want to; everyone does. This is a disease that you do not have a lot of control over. If you have the disease, it needs to be treated, and if you don’t have the disease, you can misbehave and get away with it.

There are misperceptions in regards to heart disease. “If you have it, it needs to be treated,” says Dr. Callister.

How — and how often — can we check for heart disease?

We had to develop tools to look at those arteries periodically. That’s what we do with these fast scans in just seconds. You don’t undress, there are no needles, there’s no dye, there’s less radiation than flying in an airplane. In a moment, I know if you have it or not, and if you do, is it coming at you fast or slow? And do you have a lot or a little? Those are the three pieces of information I need. If you don’t have it, I tell you to be healthy, and as you get older, we will check it again. We know the warranty is between 5 and 10 years. If you are normal now, you don’t need to check until somewhere between 5 and 10 years. Age 40 is the recommended age to scan for men, 45 for women.

Thank you to Dr. Callister for both your passion for your work as well as for sharing this useful information to help people be proactive with their health. 

To make an appointment at Tennessee Heart & Vascular, visit tennheart.com.

This article is sponsored by TriStar Health. All photography by Leila Grossman.

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