Specialty: Cardiovascular disease
Titles: Associate Chief Medical Officer, Director of Cardiology Operations, Associate Professor of Cardiology
Hospitals: NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital
Dr. Anthony Pucillo is one of those rare people who always knew what career he wanted to pursue. “From an early age, medicine was something I thought about,” he says, explaining that a medical career was the perfect way to combine his affinity for science with a desire to interact with people and help them. “I never considered doing anything else,” he says. “I played baseball in college, but I knew I’d never be a Yankee.”
The Yankees’ loss turned out to be medicine’s gain, since Pucillo has amassed impressive credentials during his career. As the Director of Cardiology Operations at NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital, he oversees cardiac-care services; he is also the Associate Chief Medical Officer at the hospital. In addition, Pucillo serves as an associate professor of cardiology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, as well as the principal investigator for an NIH study on the use of stenting in carotid artery disease. And yet despite his myriad responsibilities, Pucillo seems most excited when he talks about treating patients.
As an interventional cardiologist, Pucillo divides his time between seeing patients in his office and performing life-sustaining, catheter-based procedures to treat a wide range of cardiovascular diseases. Recalling an event from his internship, “When I put in my first central line, I was hooked,” he says, referring to a medical procedure. “The ability to practice medicine while performing cardiac procedures was the perfect union for me.”
Another compelling union in Pucillo’s life has been his decades-long relationship with an 87-year-old patient named Martin Scherer. The serious and scholarly doctor and the funny, irreverent patient initially bonded over their shared love of the Yankees and the Great American Songbook. Scherer, who credits Pucillo with saving his life many times, started bringing a framed piece of sheet music with the word “heart” in the title every time he visited the doctor’s office. Twenty years later, the walls of Pucillo’s office are covered with more than 30 pieces of sheet music from songs like “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.” As Pucillo notes: “Other doctors hang their diplomas on the wall. I have Marty’s sheet music.”
After realizing that Scherer was unwell during a recent visit, Pucillo performed a complicated procedure to open a critical blockage of a heart artery. Acknowledging that it can be a “tremendous challenge,” Pucillo states that “while relating to patients as people, you still have to be able to recognize and treat their medical issues.”
It’s a delicate balance between science and emotion, but it’s one the doctor seems very comfortable with. You might not expect a cardiologist to embrace the popular notion of the heart as the center of human emotions but, as Pucillo explains, “The brain initiates emotions… but the heart feels emotions. When you’re excited or sad, your heart pumps harder and stronger and increases blood flow. Strong emotions can affect how parts of the heart function. Heartfelt emotions are real.”
This big-hearted attitude helps to explain why a patient would bring his doctor the sheet music to “You Stole My Heart Away.” It also explains why Pucillo loves his job. “If you wake up in the morning and enjoy what you do, it’s never a job. It’s a joy,” he says.