Unlike other recent additions, WellStar Medical Group did not buy the practice. Instead, the surgeons were brought into the system after the termination of an agreement between WellStar and Emory University.
Emory had been staffing the group that was performing surgeries at WellStar Kennestone Hospital. The cardiovascular surgery office will remain at its current location at 61 Whitcher St. in Marietta.
One of the cardiothoracic surgeons joining the health network is Dr. William Cooper, who has been affiliated with WellStar Kennestone Hospital since the inception of the cardiac surgery program in 2004.
Cooper, 45, who estimates he has performed 4,000 to 5,000 surgeries, said it is humbling that his practice has done so well.
Cooper said he is not focused on the personal gain, but on the tremendous responsibility that comes with caring for people.
“It is about taking the lives of individuals into our hands, and with God’s help, getting people back to enjoying life,” Cooper said.
Cooper said his parents, who were teachers, were his biggest motivators as a child. When his mom, Louise, died from pancreatic cancer when Cooper was 14, his focus turned to medicine.
“I went into this thinking I was going to cure cancer,” Cooper said, adding that he was very idealistic.
While in medical school, Cooper said he was exposed to various specialties, but was most intrigued by watching physicians working on the heart.
“You can watch somebody’s beating heart,” and then see that same patient walking and talking the next day, Cooper said. “The resilience of the heart is absolutely fascinating.”
As an assistant professor of surgery at the Emory University School of Medicine, Cooper directed the establishment of the cardiac surgery rotation at WellStar Kennestone Hospital for Emory cardiothoracic surgery residents.
Cooper said his goal of working with WellStar for almost 10 years has been to create a great teaching environment for students.
Even if the vast majority of students do not go into cardiovascular surgery, Cooper said it is a way to honor the men who mentored him.
Cooper’s commitment to serving the community does not stop at education.
As a U.S. Army reservist, he served as a lieutenant colonel in the Medical Corps in one tour with Operation Iraqi Freedom and two tours in Afghanistan with Operation Enduring Freedom.
Being in the Army for almost 30 years has taught him leadership, tenacity and endurance in a vulnerable situation.
Although he did not volunteer to go to a warzone, but was mobilized, Cooper said he would not trade the valuable experience.
Cooper said being a trauma surgeon in the Middle East has given him a unique perspective on the sacrifice “of 18- and 19-years-olds defending those that are much less fortunate than us.”
Cooper said the benefit of his practice being acquired by WellStar is that the integration will allow both the health system and the surgeons to move forward effectively in the same direction.
“We are looking forward to maintaining our standing in the top 15 percent of the country’s heart programs,” he said.
The focus will include evaluating and delivering surgical options to patients who are not candidates for more intrusive procedures.
These new technologies include percutaneous heart valves, which can be replaced without traditional surgery that requires cracking open a person’s sternum.
There are also heart failure therapies such as ventricular assist devices, which are implanted into patients that are not eligible for a transplant. With the help of this advancement, patients can get out of the hospital and even back to work, Cooper said.
Dr. Richard Myung, who joined the cardiovascular surgery practice when it expanded, is another surgeon WellStar acquired. Myung, completed residencies at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Emory University Medical Center in Atlanta.
“I am extremely excited to be joining WellStar and honored to be a part of a team delivering world-class healthcare to our region,” Myung said.
WellStar Health System is one of the largest not-for-profit health systems in Georgia and serves a population of nearly 1.4 million residents in five counties.
WellStar Medical Group has 53 surgeons of all specialties, in addition to 35 obstetrics physicians who perform gynecological surgeries.
Another cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Theresa Luu, will join the team in November. Cooper said Luu was also trained at Emory University and is anxious to get back to the Marietta area.