CEDAR RAPIDS — One man brought them together.
Earlier this month, hundreds of former patients, colleagues and friends gathered to pass along best wishes to Dr. Naser Payvandi, an interventional cardiologist with UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Cardiology Clinic, who is retiring at the end of this week.
Payvandi has spent 41 years in his chosen specialty, caring for thousands of heart patients in Eastern Iowa. His daughter, Dr. Laila Payvandi, has been a partner in the Cardiology Clinic since 2012.
Payvandi was a pioneer in his field, helping develop the first cardiology practice in Cedar Rapids in 1977.
His patients, Payvandi said, have been the most rewarding part of his career. It was important to make a personal connection with his patients and their families, he said. Without it, he added, he “could not practice.”
“That has been the pillar of my practice,” he said.
Among the patients at his March 15 retirement reception at the Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa community room was Gary Jones, 64, of Cedar Rapids, who first saw Payvandi when he had a heart attack in December 1994. The physician also had cared for Jones’ father.
Jones recalled sending Payvandi a Christmas card one year, which the doctor thanked him for four months later when Jones saw him for an appointment.
“You never got lost in the shuffle with him,” Jones said. “He knew every patient by name, which is just amazing.”
Jones’ wife, Tammi, agreed.
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“He’s so compassionate,” she said. “He’s there for you. I wouldn’t want anyone else to tell me (bad news). Even though it was a hard thing to take hearing it from him, I knew it was going to be OK.”
Payvandi’s retirement comes at the start of spring, nice timing for a man who loves to garden and spend time outdoors. He’s also looking forward to spending time with his grandson and traveling with this wife, Cathie.
Payvandi was born in 1944 in Tabriz, Iran. His medical training took him to London in the 1960s and to Chicago in 1969. The next year, he was accepted at the University of Iowa in Iowa City for his residency and a fellowship.
“The only thing was, I didn’t know where Iowa was,” he said, laughing.
He and Cathie were married in Iowa City in 1976 while she was completing her doctoral degree in English literature at the UI.
Shortly after Payvandi’s fellowship, senior physicians and officials at St. Luke’s Hospital were working to start a modern cardiology program. Payvandi was their choice to lead it.
The city had two surgeons who could perform heart and vascular surgery, but nothing was in place for procedures other than open heart surgery.
“There really was no cardiology at that time,” Payvandi said. “It was all clinical cardiology. There really was no intervention, there were no procedures.”
The Payvandis moved to Cedar Rapids, and the cardiology program took off immediately, he said. He had so many patients and procedures that Payvandi — the only cardiologist in the city at the time — was working day and night.
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Since those days, Payvandi’s field has seen “revolutions” in patient care, he said.
The first significant one, he said, came in 1983 when Dr. Andreas Gruentzig developed the angioplasty method to unblock a blood vessel. Gruentzig was recruited to Atlanta and began teaching American cardiologists the procedure.
“I was fortunate enough to go to his first course in Atlanta,” Payvandi said. He began doing the procedure in Cedar Rapids when he returned.
Then along came stents — a support inserted in the heart to keep blood vessels open.
“Before that, we had to send every patient for bypass surgery,” Payvandi said. “Now we were able to really take them in the heart catheterization lab.”
The changes in his field, he said, have been tremendous, and he plans to continue to be a part of the field in some way, perhaps teaching part-time during his retirement.
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