City’s first, only open-heart surgeon leaving River Region|[08/23/07]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 23, 2007

Four years after making medical history in Vicksburg, Dr. Edward Crocker is leaving River Region Medical Center, where he performed the city’s first open-heart procedure in 2003.

&#8220Dr. Crocker has been a tremendous attribute to River Region,” said Diane Gawronski, director of marketing and public relations. &#8220He’s a compassionate, highly skilled cardiovascular surgeon. We wish him well, and he’ll be missed by River Region staff and the community.”

Crocker will step down from his post in January – or possibly before – to become the only cardiovascular surgeon at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Columbus. He said the job change came as a surprise to him.

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&#8220I wasn’t out looking for another job. They called me out of the blue and one thing led to another,” he said.

In his five years at River Region, Crocker, who started the heart program, said he has performed about 300 open-heart surgeries, in addition to about 600 other heart procedures. He said he feels hospital administrators, as well as local physicians, have supported and embraced the program over the years.

While Crocker is the only surgeon, the center has three other physicians who specialize in cardiology and make up a portion of the staff of the hospital’s heart center.

&#8220We are blessed with two long term cardiologists – Dr. Murray Whitaker and Dr. Abdul Bahro,” Gawronski said. &#8220We are also delighted to welcome to River Region a new cardiologist – Dr. Paul W. Pierce IV, who joined the team in July.”

Crocker said his relationship with the cardiologists at the heart center has been &#8220a team effort.”

&#8220We have a good working relationship,” he said. &#8220Dr. Paul Pierce is going to be a tremendous asset to the program.”

The hospital opened its $123 million facility on U.S. 61 North in February 2002, consolidating ParkView and Vicksburg medical centers, the two general hospitals here, into one U.S. 61 North campus. A stated goal was attracting more specialists, such as Crocker, who would have patient bases large enough to support their practice.

The large surgical suite for open-chest heart procedures went into service early in the next year when Crocker and the team of specially trained support personnel who moved here with him performed a quadruple coronary bypass on a 74-year-old Pattison woman.

Before that, and unless or until another surgeon is employed, Jackson will be the closest city where such procedures can be performed.

Crocker, a Jackson, Tenn., native, had previously worked as a surgeon in Lake Charles, La., for 13 years.

Gawronski said the hospital’s cardiovascular services, including a wing added specifically for cardiac care, have received positive results from the community.

&#8220We built the heart center at River Region to be one of excellent service,” she said. &#8220Many of our patients have asked to provide positive testimonial recounts of their experiences so they can share that with the community.”

Crocker said he has also been satisfied with the heart center.

&#8220I’m pleased with the product we’ve turned out in cardiovascular surgery,” he said. &#8220I think the patients and their families have also been pleased.”

After Crocker’s departure, the hospital will decide what to do, Gawronski said.

&#8220We are investigating our options to continue our open-heart surgery program,” she said. &#8220One of those options is the recruitment of a cardiovascular surgeon.”

In the meantime, however, the hospital will explore other options.

&#8220With the continual advances in cardiac care, a great benefit to patients is the option of other interventional cardiology procedures rather than open-heart surgery,” Gawronski said. &#8220Certainly, for some individuals, open-heart surgery may be the only option.”

River Region offers alternative procedures, such as stents, to provide less invasive treatment.

&#8220We’re prepared to continue to provide outstanding cardiology surgeries,” Gawronski said.

Crocker said he hopes to see the success of the heart center continue.

&#8220I hope they can continue the program and maintain what I believe to be a high level of care – that’s certainly what they want,” he said.

Heart catheterizations had been done by cardiologists since 2000 at the former ParkView Regional Medical Center. That service continues at River Region today.

Crocker said he and his wife, Trudy Crocker, and their two young children will miss Vicksburg.

&#8220We have really had mixed emotions about all this, but we put a lot of thought into it and hopefully it will be a good decision,” he said. &#8220We’ve enjoyed living in Vicksburg, and we will certainly miss that.”

River Region Medical Center is the anchor of River Region Health System, which owns multispecialty clinics and several other health-related businesses in Vicksburg. Together, they are owned by Community Health Systems in a deal that made the former owner, Triad, a wholly owned subsidiary effective July 25. CHS has 130 hospitals in 28 states.