Growth of Cardiac Care Is a Team Effort
After graduating from high school in 1970, Thomas Marker took a road trip with a friend from Larkspur, California to Oregon, ending up in Corvallis to hang out with another friend who was training for football at Oregon State University. Marker went away to college, medical school and residency training, and during his time as a primary care physician in a public health service program in Scotts Valley, California, he would bring his wife and children to Corvallis to visit family.
“We liked Corvallis,” Dr. Marker said, recalling those family road trips. “We thought it was a cool place and a great place to raise our three sons. I always had it in my mind as a place I would like to live and practice.”
After finishing his cardiology fellowship the opportunity presented itself, and Dr. Marker came to Corvallis to work as a cardiologist in 1988.
“I was the only cardiologist in Corvallis, indeed from Salem to Eugene,” Dr. Marker said.
There had been cardiologists in the area before Dr. Marker came to town, and for about a decade after establishing his practice here other cardiologists came and went, staying a year – maybe a few – before moving on.
Dr. Marker retired on Jan. 1, 2020. Over a span of more than three decades, he remained in Corvallis and worked with colleagues and local health care leaders to recruit cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and advance practice clinicians to help build the heart and vascular program at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center.
With his training as an invasive cardiologist – a physician trained to use invasive measures such as angioplasty and stents to diagnose and treat problems in the heart – he was qualified to perform procedures such as cardiac catheterization, balloon angioplasty and permanent pacemaker placements. In those first few years, Good Sam did not have the facilities for these procedures, so he collaborated with Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene to perform elective cases there.
A Growing Program
On his 40th birthday in 1991, it was the local community that was gifted a present – cardiac catheterization. This greatly advanced diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions at Good Sam.
“We’d just opened the first cath lab in Corvallis,” Dr. Marker said. “We were only doing diagnostic angiography at that time, but it was a huge step towards what is today a full-service adult cardiac program.”
Dr. Marker helped recruit other cardiologists and cardiac clinicians, including Roger Dreiling, MD, Randall Bream, MD, and Nurse Practitioner Kim Montagne, each of whom practiced in Corvallis for decades and worked tirelessly to build the cardiovascular service line.
Good Sam launched its cardiovascular surgery program in 1996 in partnership with the Starr-Wood Group, a widely recognized cardiac physicians and surgeons group based in Portland.
“With that we were able to expand our service in percutaneous coronary interventions – angioplasty and stents,” said Dr. Marker. “Before that heart attacks were taken care of, for the most part, the old-fashioned way – with prayer and medications. If we identified situations where the vessel had opened up a little, we could get them in an ambulance to Salem or Eugene.”
Physician Assistant Alec Baker, Cardiothoracic Surgeon Bart Jenson, MD, and Jo Dillon, RN, perform the first open heart surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital in 1996.
It had been projected that the cardiovascular team would provide about 150 surgeries per year during the first few years, but one year later the case volume was more than 250.
In 2000, Dr. Marker, Dr. Bream and Dr. Dreiling formed the independent practice Cardiology Consultants of Oregon, along with Montagne and other clinicians providing cardiology care in Corvallis. By August of 2002, this practice was purchased by Good Samaritan Hospital and the group became employees of Samaritan. With the support of the Samaritan system, the cardiology group expanded their reach into Lincoln and Linn counties.
“To build this system with cath labs and surgery you have to have a certain volume to justify that kind of equipment and support that kind of a program,” noted Dr. Marker. “A town the size of Corvallis was not sufficient, but geographically we were in a good place to offer an opportunity.”
So, Dr. Marker, Montagne and others began a campaign of outreach to physicians and emergency medical technicians in the surrounding communities.
“We gave talks and asked what they needed to set up programs,” Dr. Marker said. “Hours and months and years of work went into creating these systems and providing education on how to achieve the best outcomes for patients.”
Meanwhile, with millions of dollars of donor support, the Ralph Hull Regional Heart Center wing was built at Good Sam in 2002 and allowed further development and growth of regional cardiac care services.
In 2006, the cardiologists, surgeons, interventional radiologists and related specialists came together to form Samaritan Heart & Vascular Institute. The new entity underscored the significant growth of services and the increasing number of patients coming from all over the area for care.
A Growing Team
Recruitment continued over the years and Samaritan’s cardiac program now boasts two cardiothoracic surgeons, eight general cardiologists, three interventional cardiologists, two electrophysiologists, six cardiology fellows, eight physician assistants, six nurse practitioners and one behavioral health specialist who also oversees interns and residents.
“One of the reasons I joined in 2007 was because of the really tight, collegial, familial group,” said Matthew Lindberg, MD, medical director of the cardiac program. “There was a group culture that Tom was a big part of. He was a stabilizing influence.”
Samaritan Heart Center Medical Director Matthew Lindberg, MD, left, visits with retired Cardiologist Thomas Marker, MD.
Dr. Marker and Dr. Lindberg are quick to point out the importance of well-trained ICU nurses, echocardiographers, nuclear medicine techs, ECG/stress test techs, cath lab techs, nurses, managers and others on the health care team for a successful cardiac program and the best patient outcomes.
“I’ve witnessed a phenomenal growth in training and expertise from across the spectrum of service,” Dr. Marker said. “What is offered now, and the quality of care is remarkable.”
Notably, the electrophysiology lab was added in 2011, allowing testing and treatment for heart rhythm disorders.
“Dr. Jeff Hsing is a dedicated electrophysiologist and has offered so much of himself, his time and effort to develop and expand EP services at Samaritan,” said Dr. Marker.
Samaritan established its cardiology fellowship program in 2013 to train the next generation of cardiologists – four of whom have stayed with Samaritan Heart Center or returned after further training.
Dr. Marker talks with cardiology fellows from Samaritan’s Graduate Medical Education program.
“We have a very well-functioning fellowship program and train two excellent fellows every year,” said Dr. Lindberg. “The fellowship program is supported by all of the team, and Dr. Benjamin Hudson has really been a driver of excellence in the fellowship program as the Fellowship Director.”
In 2016, Samaritan welcomed Edward Bender, MD, Stanford Medicine cardiothoracic surgeon, through an affiliation with Stanford Health Care, expanding access to even more kinds of lifesaving procedures, and later welcomed Rabin Gerrah, MD, Stanford Medicine cardiothoracic surgeon.
“Working together with Stanford Health Care has helped Samaritan recruit cardiothoracic surgeons of the highest caliber, enabling the latest and most innovative surgical procedures,” said Dr. Lindberg.
After cardiac services moved across the Good Sam campus in 2018, the group took on a new name, Samaritan Heart Center, and with the construction of a hybrid operating room, the structural heart program was launched in 2019 with the first transcatheter aortic valve replacement – known as TAVR.
In 2021, Dr. Greschner was joined by Ashwat Dhillon, MD, as Samaritan’s first fellowship-trained structural cardiologist, helping to advance the structural heart program further with additional heart valve procedures. Then in 2022 William Stoutt, DO, joined as the third active Interventional cardiologist in the group.
“Dr. Dhillon’s fellowship training in percutaneous structural heart procedures like mitral valve repair and atrial septal closures continue to advance procedures available to patients in our area,” said Dr. Lindberg.
In 2022 Gregory Wood, MD, joined the group and, with his expertise in advanced heart failure, is working with Cardiologist Sridhar Vijayasekaran, MD, to expand the chronic heart failure program at Good Sam to ensure the latest evidence-based best practices are in place to improve patient outcomes and quality of life for heart failure patients. This year, the heart failure program won the Get With The Guidelines Silver Award as part of the American Heart Association’s program ensure the care provided to patients is aligned with the latest research-based guidelines based on the latest scientific evidence.
A Bright Future
“This is just one of so many exciting developments happening at Samaritan Heart Center right now,” said Dr. Lindberg. “And these are just a few of our amazing clinicians. We would have to write a book to cover all of the ways they contribute to the program and to patient care.”
After more than 15 years with the cardiac program, Dr. Lindberg summarizes the evolution of regional cardiac care with four major developments – the arrival of Dr. Marker and the cath lab, the addition of cardiac surgery, the advancement of electrophysiology services and the rise of the structural heart program and TAVR.
“With each of these developments, we increased our ability to save lives and improve the quality of life after a cardiac event or diagnosis,” he said. “The future of cardiovascular care in our region is bright as we continue to bring the latest care options to our patients.”
In retirement, Dr. Marker is happy to see the cardiac program he helped grow continue to evolve in leaps and bounds.
“Samaritan Heart Center is able to offer care and procedures that not only save lives, but that make lives better,” he said. “Patients can receive a full spectrum of cardiac care right here in our region, and that’s something to be proud of.”
Watch for more articles about Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center as we celebrate 75 years of service to the mid-Willamette Valley and central Oregon coast.