Best Doctors: Profiles
Four doctors, four paths to excellence
One of the best things we have in Fort Wayne is an outstanding medical community. And community is the proper term, as it takes everyone, from janitors to surgical techs to hospital CEOs, to ensure that we in Northeast Indiana are able to take advantage of the amazing resources we have right here.
Our annual look at some of the Best Doctors in the region brings us into contact with the best of the best – the physicians that their peers identified as the ones they would select as care providers. Being able to tell their stories is a highlight of our year here at Fort Wayne Monthly, and we are aware that our readers eagerly await the publication of this important and useful information, including the local physicians on the Best Doctors in America® list, which you will find on page 30. The four doctors profiled in the following pages took varying paths before landing in Northeast Indiana, but all share a dedication to improving the health and thus the lives of their patients and the region as a whole.
+ Dr. Jeffrey Justice
He wants to fix what’s wrong
For Dr. Jeffrey Justice, “the days are busy and the nights are reasonable” for his practice as a general surgeon in the towns of Auburn, Ind., and Hicksville, Ohio. He’s not often called upon to treat serious traumas, and his days are mostly spent removing troublesome spots from breasts and colons, taking out wonky gall bladders, patching leaky hernias and generally opening patients up and fixing what ails them.
It fits with his personality, which is one that likes checking things off on a list, as he described it. Performing each operation is different, but similar techniques are used.
“I’m not good with chronic diseases,” he said. “I want to fix it.”
He likes this kind of a practice, where the person he treats on a Monday could have been sitting next to him in the pew on Sunday. And while he usually only meets with his patients a couple of times – for a pre-op consult, on the surgery day itself and at a follow-up visit – he may also see that same patient in the hardware store or in line at the grocery checkout lane.
“What could be impersonal is less so in a small town,” Justice said. He and his wife Karen raised three daughters and a son in Auburn and recently moved full time to a lake home.
The Kokomo native graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington before attending IU’s medical school in Indianapolis. He did his residency at Saint Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor Hospital in Michigan, before joining Dr. Dale Sloan and his team in Fort Wayne at Northeast Indiana Surgeons, which became Indiana Surgical Specialists before the group disbanded in July 2013. He is currently unaffiliated but works at both Auburn’s DeKalb Health (formerly known as DeKalb Memorial Hospital) and Community Memorial Hospital in Hicksville.
Justice also hosts medical students for their surgical rotations and lectures to family practice physicians at the Fort Wayne Medical Education residency program two or three times each year. He said he continues to train the next generation because he enjoys the students’ youth and enthusiasm.
Still, he has advice for the young doctors in training.
“I think they should be aware that it’s a very rewarding profession, but there are times when you suffer, and that’s when your patients suffer,” he said. “If I’m worried about a patient, I’m drained. I think (surgical students) are intrigued by the science but don’t always know the human side. They struggle, and that’s very difficult.”
When he’s not slicing open abdomens, Justice can be found working in the garden, growing flowers and caring for his collection of fruit trees. His children, who are now all adults, are very fond of his dried apples, he said. He has also been involved in nearly a dozen medical missions to medically underserved countries like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Ecuador and Togo, West Africa. He plans to visit Colombia in January to provide needed vaccinations. In previous years, as his children were growing, he took one child along to help for different week-long trips.
“I believe that helped shape their personalities,” he said. While in these countries, he would perform general surgical needs.
“It’s medicine in its purest form,” he said. “The patients are extremely grateful and hardy. They go home (after surgery) on the backs of motorcycles.”
And his penchant for dissection came about at an early age, he said. His mother was a science teacher, and Justice said he “cut up every frog in the neighborhood” on the family’s picnic table.
“They knew” he would become a surgeon one day, he said.
“What else could I be?”
+ Dr. Sreenivasa Nattam
Enjoying scientific progress, giving hope
The diagnosis of cancer sends chills down the spine of every patient who hears it. But there is reason for optimism, says Fort Wayne Medical Oncology and Hematology’s Dr. Sreenivasa Nattam.
“Our understanding of the biology of the disease has improved,” Nattam said. “Technological advances, diagnostic advances, whether it’s a surgeon’s technique or in the pathology, … we have gone from empiric, non-specific chemotherapy to targeted, personalized medicine.”
Nattam, a native of India, attended medical school at Sri Venkateswara University in India before interning at the Columbus Hospital in Chicago and completing his residency at the Illinois Masonic Hospital, also in Chicago. He completed a fellowship at the Veterans Administration hospital in Hines, Ill., before moving to Fort Wayne in 1981 to join the then-three member staff at Fort Wayne Medical Oncology and Hematology.
The practice has grown to 16 physicians, and as it has grown, so has doctors’ understanding of the biology of cancer. Genomic testing, screening, targeted therapy and supportive therapy have made marked improvements in survival rates and the comfort of patients during and after treatment, he said.
Nattam cited improvements in the treatment of breast cancer as an example.
“For us the breast cancer genome is helping us understand the biology of the disease,” he said. “Now we are … much more enthusiastic (about being) an oncologist because of these advances.”
And new anti-nausea medications and supportive care treatments have made cancer treatments more comfortable.
“We have less people dying from treatment,” he said. “Patients are doing a lot better than before.”
Nattam and his fellow oncologists are able to enroll patients in clinical trials to see if new medications or treatments can help, and Nattam himself often presents before medical conferences to share the latest in treatment options.
“The hope is to be able to tell what a patient is going to require, what kind of therapy” would work best for their individual type of cancer, he said.
Personalized chemotherapy based on the cancer cells’ genetic makeup is a burgeoning field and is helping improve survival rates. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1.6 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2014, with 585,720 deaths from cancer, accounting for 1 in every 4 deaths. Across the U.S., cancer will develop in one out of every two men and one out of every three women, according to statistics from the American Cancer Society, and 35,560 Hoosiers will be diagnosed in 2014, the society reported.
That said, cancer survival rates have improved in the past two decades, and Nattam said he’s hopeful those rates will continue to improve. Several areas, however, are still confounding scientists and doctors.
“Pancreatic cancer, malignant melanoma – it is still a challenge. We have made a lot of progress, but they are still” deadly diseases, he said. He was recently involved in a clinical trial of medications to treat ovarian cancer, one of the most deadly cancers for women.
“Whatever clinical trial a community oncology practice can offer,” he will try to get patients enrolled in, he said.
“For many of (our patients), we can give them hope.”
+ Dr. Jonathan Walker
Seeing a big need and helping others see
Dr. Jonathan Walker leans back in his chair and contemplates the improvements made in treatment of retinal diseases of the eye. The ophthalmologist and retinal specialist says some retinal diseases can be stopped by injecting medicines directly into the eye, something that may make even the strongest among us squirm, but in Walker’s hands, patients can feel as though they have a champion.
Two of the main retinal diseases Walker treats are macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, both of which can slowly steal a person’s sight.
“The problem with diabetic retinal damage is that patients may have no symptoms until the damage is done,” Walker said. “All diabetics need annual eye exams.”
Which is why he volunteers at Matthew 25, the no-cost clinic that treats uninsured low-income residents of Allen County. He was able to help the clinic get a retinal camera and another similar camera at Neighborhood Health Clinics. People without insurance often miss out on regular screenings that could catch eye problems when treatment is more effective, he noted.
“Unfortunately there’s a lot of people who don’t have insurance or are underinsured and don’t get in for regular exams,” Walker said. “We want to catch them early.”
Patients at the two clinics who have worrying symptoms are then treated for free, Walker said. He came to Fort Wayne in 1996 to join Allen County Retinal Surgeons after growing up in Los Angeles and receiving his medical training at the University of Cincinnati, where he met his future wife, Deborah Blaney, a nurse. He spent time teaching at Ohio State University and continues to teach at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Fort Wayne.
“I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for my partner, Matthew Farber, who was the first retinal specialist in Fort Wayne back in 1989. Prior to his arrival, people had to go to Indianapolis or simply didn’t get treatment. He set up our practice and filled it with our excellent office staff – nothing would get done without them,” he said.
“As nice as Fort Wayne is, many young doctors prefer the glamour of the big cities, so there is a relative shortage of doctors here. And, unfortunately, Hoosiers don’t tend to take great care of themselves compared to people in other areas of the country. The result is that there are tons of patients with lots of diseases – it keeps everyone working like crazy, and any doc that practices in Fort Wayne gets to be really good really fast,” he said. “And none of us would be able to do what we do if it wasn’t for all the people that are part of the matrix in which we function. That matrix includes everyone from administrators, nurses and other professionals to the folks that keep the hospitals clean — they all help create the excellent healthcare system that we have. And without those people, we physicians might as well be sprinkling dust and rattling beads to get our patients better.”
Walker has also worked with local social service clubs to help people across the world see better.
“Fort Wayne also provides lots of opportunities to take on projects outside one’s practice because there are so many people who place service above self. For instance, thanks to the Rotary Club, we’ve been able to get several large grants to support the only charity and teaching eye hospital in all of Nicaragua. They are now much better able to treat patients and train their own doctors with the equipment that was obtained. We have done similar work with a teaching hospital in Honduras thanks to members of the local Lion’s Club,” he said.
And Walker worked with Dr. David Sorg to write a textbook on diabetic retinopathy that was released as a free download because doctors in developing countries might not be able to afford to purchase it.
“It has been quite popular around the world and has been translated into Russian and Chinese. Without our solid medical community – and the large number of patients we all see – an effort like that would not be possible.”
+ Dr. James Cameron
Champion of the tiniest babies and their parents
The very tiniest babies born in Fort Wayne have a champion in Dr. James Cameron.
A graduate of North Side High School, Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne and the Indiana University School of Medicine, Cameron spent three years at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis before the lure of family brought him back to the Summit City.
As a pediatrics specialist in neonatal-perinatal medicine, Cameron works with premature babies or very sick babies to help give them a fighting chance of survival. Advances in treating the very smallest babies have helped dramatically improve the infants’ odds, he noted.
“Probably the biggest new (treatment) is brain cooling for babies born oxygen-deprived,” he said. “By cooling them down, it gives the brain a chance to recover from the injury.”
Other advances include using inhalant nitrous oxide, which helps blood get to the lungs of premature babies.
Cameron knows what parents of premature babies are going through: the month he graduated from medical school, he and his wife Jennifer had a premature infant, Caleb, who was born at 24 weeks’ gestation and lived for just 10 days.
“I know what it’s like to lose a child, but … you never want to assume (my) experience is the same as yours,” he said. “This doesn’t have to be a completely negative experience. I know what it’s like to be afraid.”
Developing a relationship with parents of premature or very sick babies is one of the best aspects of his practice, he said. A strong relationship between doctor and patients’ families helps them understand what the babies’ challenges are.
“(Babies) don’t talk back to you,” he said. “It’s great being able to get in there at the start of life. We are trying to get this sick or tiny baby home and have its birthday. It’s great when they run up to you and hug you” after they’ve grown.
Cameron and the five other doctors in his practice, Northern Indiana Neonatal Associates, work out of Lutheran and Dupont hospitals. Two full-time nurse practitioners are also a part of the practice. He also oversees the Lutheran Children’s Hospital NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and is the physician liaison for the neonatal division of the Mobile Intensive Care Unit, which transports premature and sick babies from area hospitals. In addition, he serves as coordinator of the hospital’s work with the Vermont Oxford Network, which is a nonprofit voluntary collaboration of neonatal care specialists who work to improve the quality and safety of medical care for newborns and their families through a coordinated program of research, education and quality improvement projects, according to the group’s website.
Cameron is beginning a research project with the Vermont Oxford Network to study whether delaying clamping babies’ umbilical cord for 30 to 45 seconds after the baby is delivered will help reduce bleeding on the brain and the need for transfusions for the extremely premature infants.
“There’s a lot of potential good” to the practice, he said.
Fort Wayne isn’t the only place Cameron practices. Last year, he spent 10 days in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on a medical missions trip, where he and others ran several clinics for local residents. He called the trip “definitely life-changing” and said his worldview had been altered because of what he experienced there. He hopes to return when the country becomes more stable.
“We love caring for all these babies,” he said. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”
Well, he sees himself doing one other thing: blowing stuff up. He “does pyrotechnics on the side” with Melrose Pyrotechnic, the company that sets off fireworks in downtown Fort Wayne.
“It’s a neat, unique experience that makes a lot of people happy.”
First appeared in the November 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.