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Needles, antibiotics and waiting rooms aren't most people's idea
of a good time. Perhaps it's one of the world's great ironies that
what can sometimes be so annoying can also contribute to saving
Because our health is so critical, it's important to know where
to find a doctor. That's why Cleveland Magazine offers this list of
Northeast Ohio's 450 top doctors. The list, compiled by Best
Doctors Inc., was derived from a national poll of more than 30,000
doctors in 40 different specialties. It was then pared down to this
list of 450 local doctors recommended by other physicians.
While the list is extensive, it should be noted that not all of
the area's best are included. For various reasons, such as only
recent entry into the profession or narrowness of focus, some great
physicians didn't make the list.
Sometimes, the best way to find a good doctor is to simply ask
around, according to Dr. Ted Castele, best known as "Dr. Ted" from
his 24 years on WEWS NewsChannel 5.
"Get some good ideas of a reputation," he says. "The best way to
do that is to ask another doctor."
Doctors know best about other physicians' scientific
qualifications. If you're new to town or don't have a doctor yet,
Castele recommends calling any large area hospital or the Academy
of Medicine for referrals. Then, start asking others about the
names you've been given.
Another good way to judge a doctor's skill is through his or her
training and education, says Dr. George Kikano, professor and chair
of the department of family medicine at the Case Western Reserve
University School of Medicine and University Hospitals of
Cleveland. For specialists, board certification is an important
sign that suggests doctors are actively working to further their
Castele says another way to check qualifications is to look at
the doctor's educational history and make sure he or she attended a
reputable medical school. He warns against putting too much weight
on board certification, however. While having it is a good sign,
not having it doesn't mean the doctor is bad.
As you search for a doctor, there are a number of common
pitfalls to avoid. For example, Kikano says some people think a
full waiting room is proof of a doctor's skill.
"It feeds itself," he explains. "[People think] if he's busy, he
must be good. That has nothing to do with it."
Both doctors agree that bedside manner is important, but they're
quick to note that being nice does not always equate to good
"You can't go on bedside manner alone," Castele says, adding
that picking a doctor is really a subjective process. Someone who
may be a good doctor for your neighbor may not be the best fit for
We hope our list of the top area professionals gives you a good
Dr. Tom Phelps, pediatrician, University Hospitals
Dr. Tom Phelps makes the confession softly.
"Sometimes, I give out my cell phone if I'm really worried about
them," he admits.
It's not that he doesn't think his patients will get good
service from whichever of the eight other physicians in his Geauga
County practice happens to be on call that night. After all, he has
personally hired each one of them to build the county's largest
pediatric practice, with offices in Chesterland, Willoughby,
Chardon and Middlefield.
It's just that he's that kind of a guy: an old-fashioned
pediatrician in every way but the house calls.
"Tom exemplifies the kind of pediatrician that every parent
would want for their child," says Dr. Michael Nochomovitz,
president and chief medical officer of University Primary and
Specialty Care Practices. "He gives time to people when they need
it not only patients, but parents and also his
Nochomovitz says Phelps has an "endless supply" of physicians
who want to work with him. More importantly, adds Dr. Brian Berman,
vice chairman of pediatrics for community physician affairs and
chief of general academic pediatrics at Rainbow Babies &
Children's Hospital, many other physicians bring their own children
Colleagues and patients alike describe him as a "superb
pediatrician," who is gentle, caring, understanding and supportive.
"Professionally, he really embodies the best of what medicine has
to offer," says Berman. "On a personal level, he is a warm, kind,
soft-spoken individual. He is a family man of the highest
A graduate of The Ohio State University Medical College, Phelps
served his residency at University Hospitals' Rainbow Babies &
Children's Hospital. After a year practicing out of state, he
returned to Chesterland in 1988 to go into private practice.
As a child, he moved frequently because his father worked for
General Electric. Those broken attachments left him longing for a
sense of community. He calls Chesterland where he not only
practices, but also lives "a dream come true." When he knows
a family in his practice is moving, he shares his firsthand
knowledge of what it was like to be an uprooted kid.
During his early days, Phelps worked seven days a week,
answering patient calls at all hours. In 1994, he sold the practice
to University Hospitals, becoming the physician and practice
manager and building one of UH's largest pediatric practices in
It gave him freedom to no longer be on call every night and
every weekend. That time became critical when he and his wife,
Judy, adopted a trio of siblings about six years ago. They've since
adopted a fourth child.
All four children were born to drug-addicted mothers, creating
some special challenges in their development. Phelps now tries to
work with other parents on the psychosocial issues of adoption. But
it's the everyday life of a parent that he says helped him become
more compassionate and understanding of the challenges parents
"I treat patients as an extension of family in trying to give
them personalized care," Phelps says. "So much of being good at
pediatric medicine is listening to people, helping them cope,
showing that you care and that you're there. You could be the most
brilliant doctor, but if you never make that extra call or you
never show that extra little bit of compassion, you're not going to
get that message through to people."
That's why he sometimes slips patients his cell-phone
Seven Days That Shook the Cardiology World
Dr. Steven Nissen, cardiologist, The Cleveland Clinic
Don't tell Dr. Steven Nissen he's a celebrity.
Even with appearances on ABC's "20/20" and in the pages of
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal since the
startling results of two heart studies late last year, Nissen isn't
ready for the spotlight. "I can do without the personal celebrity,"
says the medical director of The Cleveland Clinic Cardiovascular
Coordinating Center. "I do like the fact that we made a
contribution here that is recognized around the world as truly
That "contribution," as he modestly calls it, may revolutionize
cardiac care if it holds up under further, more expansive
In the first study, published Nov. 5 in the Journal of the
American Medical Association, Nissen and colleagues at 10 medical
centers around the country gave a synthetic form of HDL
commonly called the "good" cholesterol intravenously to 47
patients, once a week for five weeks. On the sixth week, the plaque
in the patients' coronary arteries had decreased by 4.2 percent
10 times more than any prior drug.
Though drugs have previously slowed the progression of heart
disease, this was the first time anyone showed it could be reversed
and done quickly.
Initially, Nissen thought that reversing a chronic disease in
such a short time had almost no chance to work. "It's not just that
nobody had regressed this disease before," he says, "but to do it
in five weeks was unheard of."
This was also the first drug developed from a genetic mutation
discovered 30 years ago in a group of about 40 people living in
northern Italy. The people, all related to a common ancestor, had
inherited a mutation to their HDL. Despite possessing dangerously
low levels of HDL, none of them had heart disease.
A company genetically engineered a synthetic version of HDL,
called ApoA-1 Milano, and showed that it worked in animals. But
countless promising therapies that succeed in animal trials fail on
humans. "Humans are more complicated," Nissen says. "A disease
takes decades to develop, not weeks or months like [in] a
Yet the results were astonishing. "I couldn't move from my
chair," Nissen recalls. He thought there must be a mistake. "I
looked at it over and over again. I looked at the tapes. There was
no question about it," he says.
News headlines dubbed it Drano for the heart. Nissen's phone
buzzed with media seeking interviews and patients wanting to know
where they could buy it. But it's not available yet. Further
studies must test if the results improve with extended treatment,
if the results last and if there are safety concerns.
Nissen's second study, released Nov. 12 at a meeting of the
American Heart Association, revealed that Lipitor, or atorvastatin,
was a better cholesterol-lowering drug than Provachol or
pravastatin. The atherosclerosis or plaque buildup
was worse after 18 months in the group taking Provachol, but was
stopped in those taking the highest dose of Lipitor.
For the second time in a week, Nissen was in the national
His time at The Cleveland Clinic is split between treating
critically ill patients in the coronary-care unit and researching
ways to prevent the disease. While the two endeavors seem like
opposites, Nissen says that seeing ill patients motivates him to
fight heart disease. Since joining the Clinic in 1992, he's built
the only lab in the world capable of such trials. (Seven others are
currently under way.)
Nissen's research is the result of his pioneering work on
intravenous ultrasound technology, nicknamed IVUS, which threads a
pinhead-sized imaging device, shielded inside a thin plastic
catheter, through an artery. When the catheter is slowly pulled
back, it takes ultrasound pictures of the artery walls and plaque
"Dr. Nissen is the most motivated and passionate person I've
ever known about intravascular ultrasound," says lab manager Tim
Crowe, who has worked with Nissen for nine years.
"He has made extraordinary contributions to advance our
understanding and the treatment of atherosclerosis, the No. 1
killer and cause of disability, in our society," adds Dr. Eric
Topol, chairman of the Clinic's Cardiovascular Medicine Division
and provost of The Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine.
"There is no question that Dr. Nissen in one of the top physicians
and cardiologists in the world."
Passion For Teaching, Compassion For Patients
Dr. Margaret McKenzie, obstetrics and gynecology, The Cleveland
Lisa Ingram of Willoughby says that the day she met Dr. Margaret
McKenzie was a "godsend." Otherwise, she might not have her four
Ingram didn't know a thing about McKenzie when she first
visited. Her sister-in-law went to the same Cleveland Clinic
obstetrician/gynecology office in Willoughby Hills, and Ingram
chose McKenzie just because she was the only woman in the
"When I met her, she was wonderful right off the bat," Ingram
says. "She wasn't the hurry-out-the-door kind of person. She really
took the time and sat with me and listened to my history."
Ingram had trouble getting pregnant and then miscarried
"The first time, I was devastated," she says. "The second time,
I went in and said, 'What do we need to do to have a baby?' "
McKenzie tested her and prescribed baby aspirin and
progesterone. Ingram delivered her first son, Daniel, in 1997.
But then she miscarried again. From that point on, they used the
same strategy they had with Daniel. Ingram and her husband, Wayne,
then had Hannah, now 4, Matthew, 2, and Andrew, born in
But beyond the tests and prescription, Ingram says it was
McKenzie's compassion and sensitivity during that difficult time
that helped her to cope.
McKenzie says she believes strongly in expressing compassion to
patients. But that alone is not enough.
"You have to have good clinical skills and surgical skills," she
That combination is what first attracted McKenzie to the ob/gyn
specialty. With a degree from Washington University School of
Medicine in St. Louis, she did her residency at University
Now she has gone back to school. In January, she became a
Harvard Macy scholar in a leadership program for physicians in
academic medicine. She attended an 11-day course in January and
will return to Harvard for a week in May.
McKenzie is developing the ob/gyn curriculum for the new
Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve
University that opens this summer. In addition, she serves on the
new medical college's admissions committee. At the Clinic, she is
also director for medical student education and clerkship
"It's a way of giving back," she explains. "I like to empower
people to become self-directed learners. Once you get out of school
and your residency, for the rest of your life you're going to be
"She'll bring a fresh perspective in educating the next
generation of young physicians," says Dr. Linda Bradley, director
of hysteroscopic surgery at The Cleveland Clinic, who hired
McKenzie for her residency and has since become a mentor
Bradley credits McKenzie's success as a physician to her
"compassion, intelligence and no-nonsense, very direct approach to
Those same qualities are the reason Lisa Ingram referred several
friends, her mother, her mother's friends and even her cleaning
lady to see McKenzie. "When you see her, it's like seeing an old
friend," Ingram says.
Tiny Babies, Big Heart
Dr. Maureen Hack, pediatric specialist, Rainbow Babies &
Dr. Maureen Hack looks through a stack of Christmas cards. She
opens one and the wallet-sized school picture of a smiling
11-year-old blonde girl slips out. Hack picks it up and smiles.
"Look how well she's doing!" she says.
To look at the fifth-grade picture of Kayla Varttelli, you would
never know she stopped breathing shortly after she was born on Nov.
24, 1992, weighing a fragile 1 1/2 pounds with almost transparent
Kayla was immediately put up for adoption. For the first three
months of her life, she had no parents to help nurture her back to
"I brought her home in February at 4 1/2 pounds," says Kayla's
adoptive mother, Karen Valore of Cleveland. "I dressed her in doll
Kayla's father, Mark Varttelli, happened to work in the neonatal
unit at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital at the time. A
social worker in the unit approached Karen and Mark -- who have
since divorced -- about adopting Kayla.
But the social worker warned the couple about the problems such
a tiny baby could have: cerebral palsy, learning and behavioral
issues. There was no way to tell what kind of future the baby girl
That's what Hack, director of high-risk follow-up in the
neonatal unit at Rainbow, wanted to know, too. As technology has
progressed and allowed smaller and smaller babies to live, Hack
asked the question, "But what happens to them as they grow up? Can
they live normal, productive lives?"
Armed with grants from the National Institutes of Health, Hack
started following babies with birth weights of less than 3 pounds
in 1977. Since then, she has followed other groups of children who,
like Kayla, weighed less than 2 pounds at birth.
Published in 2002, her groundbreaking study in The New England
Journal of Medicine compared 223 premature infants with
their peers at the age of 20. While, on average, the preemies had
lower IQs and more chronic health problems, they were also less
likely to participate in risky behavior such as drug or alcohol
She hopes to track the same group this year, at age 27, to see
how their careers, marital status and health issues (such as
diabetes or hypertension) have progressed as adults. Eventually,
she wants her research to help parents and physicians know how
aggressive they need to be in the delivery room as they try to save
tinier and tinier babies.
Neonatology was almost nonexistent when Hack graduated from
Pretoria University Medical School in South Africa at 22. Following
a pediatric residency and fellowship in Israel, she joined Case
Western Reserve University on a research fellowship in the early
"I imagined myself as a lab scientist," she reflects. "I never
thought I'd do clinical work." But as neonatology was expanding, so
was Hack's fascination with it.
"She is the most learned, most knowledgeable pediatrician in
this area, if not the country, dealing with the longer-term
neurodevelopment of sick and premature babies," says Dr. Richard
Martin, director of neonatology at Rainbow Babies & Children's
Hospital and a professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve
University. "She has the unique ability to track these infants and
assess them in a way that is quite special."
In fact, Martin adds, Child magazine ranked Rainbow's
neonatology unit first in the United States due in no small part to
Every year, Hack sends Christmas cards to the children she's
following. She loves getting cards back and hearing how well
children such as Kayla are doing.
When she was younger, Kayla received physical and occupational
therapy for mild cerebral palsy that her mother says isn't even
noticeable. She gets some extra tutoring, but otherwise attends a
regular classroom and takes part in everyday activities. And she's
no longer doll-sized.
"It's amazing to me how tiny she was and today I can wear her
tennis shoes. And I'm sure next year I won't be able to because
she'll be bigger than me," says Valore. "I think Dr. Hack is
wonderful. Her work is just phenomenal."
Easing the Issue of Aging
Dr. Maryjo Cleveland, geriatrician, Center for Senior Health at
Summa Health System
Dave Richards calls himself a complainer, the kind of guy who
doesn't hesitate to take it to the top, frequently writing letters
to tell a company CEO exactly what he thinks.
After taking his 83-year-old father, William, to the Center for
Senior Health at Summa Health System in Akron, he immediately wrote
Summa's CEO Tom Strauss.
But this time, Richards had nothing but praise.
He says that he's rarely had the experience of visiting a
physician with as much compassion as Dr. Maryjo Cleveland, director
of the center.
"She's just really approachable," he says. "She's very clear.
She's very concise. Seldom have I found a physician to be so
helpful. She spent all the time we needed and then some."
Cleveland, a geriatrician, diagnosed William Richards with Lewy
Body disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that inflicts the body
with Parkinson's disease and the mind with dementia.
"It was bad news," Dave Richards says. "But the fact that they
were able to diagnose it and give us some direction as to what was
going to happen was extremely helpful."
Cleveland made the diagnosis after a three-hour evaluation by
her team at the Center for Senior Health. For three years before
that, Dave Richards had become frustrated, shuttling his dad
between a psychiatrist and primary-care physician with no
"When you pass a lot of bad news along, you worry about the
impact that you have on patients," Cleveland says. "But they
appreciate the honesty. They appreciate giving them hope, even when
it's a difficult situation. So when they say, 'Thanks. You've
helped us through a tough time,' I think that's what I'm most proud
Cleveland adds that one of the most rewarding aspects of the
geriatric specialty is when she can fix problems that patients or
other physicians had simply chalked up to old age.
Some things that older adults view as normal aging such
as a weak bladder, side effects from medication or falling
can actually be corrected, she says.
For example, many older adults are taking medications prescribed
by several different doctors. "Some are taking two or three
medicines for the same problem," she notes. "Some are taking two
medicines that are exactly the same but with different names. Some
are taking medicines that are causing problems that they're also
taking medication for."
She says that geriatrics, which looks at the entire patient,
including their financial and caregiver support systems, is not a
matter of a patient's age, but of the chronic conditions affecting
that patient's life.
Cleveland fell in love with geriatric medicine while working as
a nurse's aide in high school. A graduate of Michigan State
University College of Human Medicine, she earned a fellowship in
geriatric medicine at Case Western Reserve University.
With the aging of the baby-boomer generation, the need for more
geriatricians is growing. Cleveland is committed to filling the
need. A "masterful" educator, says Dr. Kyle Allen, medical director
of Summa's senior health services, Cleveland teaches for the
Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, the Ohio
University College of Osteopathic Medicine and The Cleveland
Clinic-Summa Health System Geriatric Resident Program.
"To be a geriatrician, you have to be a pioneer," says Allen.
"She is dedicated to the vision of improving care for older
And, most of all, she is dedicated to her patients. Just ask
Dave Richards. "I'm just completely amazed at the coherence and the
clarity and the compassion she's shown our whole family," he
Stroke of Genius
Dr. John Chae, physical rehabilitation, MetroHealth Medical
August Mendat didn't feel any pain during his stroke three years
ago. He was with a friend at a bar when he tried to tip the
bartender with his left hand, but it wouldn't move. He got off the
barstool and couldn't walk and he was sure he hadn't had
that much to drink.
But the shoulder pain that followed the stroke was
"It was like a toothache just constant," says Mendat, 68.
"It never went away. No matter how I'd sit, stand, it just went
with me. On a scale of one to 10, it was a 10."
Desperate, Mendat attended a lecture by Dr. John Chae to learn
about ways to eliminate his shoulder pain. Chae, of MetroHealth
Medical Center, uses a technique called Functional Electrical
Stimulation to help relieve pain in stroke patients.
When Mendat qualified for the program, Chae surgically implanted
electrodes, which provide intervals of shock for an hour a day,
into Mendat's shoulder. Six weeks later, Chae removed the
Mendat hasn't experienced any pain since.
A physiatrist, Chae is a physician who specializes in physical
medicine and rehabilitation. His time is split about equally
between seeing patients and researching ways to help them function
better and with less pain after a stroke.
Chae is one of the leading researchers at the Cleveland FES
Center, a collaboration between MetroHealth, Case Western Reserve
University and the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
His cutting-edge work with electrical stimulation, funded by grants
from the National Institutes of Health, has a direct impact on a
patient's quality of life.
"He's a somewhat unusual individual in that he is a superb
clinician who is also a very accomplished researcher," says Dr.
Gary Clark, medical director of the MetroHealth Center for
Rehabilitation. "And he is able to tie those two together very
Chae, who holds assistant professorships in medicine and
engineering at Case Western Reserve University, enjoys molding
future scientists. "My goal is to reproduce myself, to ensure that
new young physiatrists with a scientific basis are developed," he
Originally, he had no plans to enter medicine. With a bachelor's
degree in biomedical engineering from Duke University, Chae pursued
a master's of engineering at Dartmouth. His desire was to develop a
prosthesis that connects to the nervous system.
But while studying engineering, he grew frustrated with his lack
of clinical knowledge and entered New Jersey Medical School.
"I wanted to be able to provide holistic care, where I saw the
patient as a whole person and not simply an organ system," Chae
explains. "I wanted not only to address the medical need of the
patients, but also other components that aren't typically included
in medicine, such as social issues, emotional issues, spiritual
In fact, Chae says he is one of the few physicians he knows who
incorporates spirituality into his practice.
"There's now been a very large amount of data indicating that
there's a strong relationship between spirituality and medical
outcome," he notes. "I've been able to address the spiritual needs
of many of my patients. I ask, 'Would you mind if I pray for you?'
I haven't had a single patient say no and about 50 to 60 percent of
the patients will cry and say, 'You know, I've never had a doctor
pray with me before.' "
Chae won't go so far as to say he's found a correlation between
his own patients who pray and those who recover. Rather than wait
for miracles, he creates them.
"What he has done for me, I would say is a miracle," Mendat
says. "I had constant pain all day long. And when he did [the FES
procedure], I have no more pain."