The chest surgeon who led the team that once operated on former President Bill Clinton gave a lecture at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25.
The surgeon, Dr. Joshua Sonett, graduated with honors from East Carolina University’s medical school in 1988. He is chief of general thoracic surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, professor of surgical oncology at CUMC, and the director of the The Price Family Center for Comprehensive Chest Care and the Lung and Esophageal Center.
In the 2005 surgery on Clinton, Sonett and his colleagues removed scar tissue that built up following Clinton’s quadruple bypass operation earlier that year.
“That was a privilege to get to know and treat President Clinton, and it was just like every other patient, believe it or not,” Sonett said. “I like going to my patients’ bedside and chatting about things, getting to know them as a person, and it was the same with Clinton. He did talk about the Middle East maybe more than other patients,” he added with a chuckle.
The importance of getting to know his patients was instilled in him at Brody. Sonett recalled having to write pages of patients’ social histories as a medical student.
“It was just as important to get to know them as it was to know their health needs,” he said.
Now, he loves being close with his patients.
Sonett’s lecture was part of the Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences grand rounds, which are weekly topic-and case-based presentations by members of the faculty providing up-to-date knowledge about timely issues in medicine. In it, he described his involvement in a 10-year study on a disease called myasthenia gravis that can make it hard for people to breathe and walk around.
“Surgeons for years had been taking out the thymus, although it wasn’t clear if that surgery improved the patients’ lives,” Sonett said. “This study definitively proved that the surgery helped. That’s one of the highlights of my career that I was involved in that.”
Although Sonett now works for a different medical school, he said he is thankful for his education from Brody.
“There are so many good med schools around the country, and I think I was blessed to come to ECU. It was a very young med school at the time…it was a great learning environment. There’s no limits to what you can do here, graduating from here.”
-by Erin Shaw, University Communications