Pediatric Cardiologist Sam Lee, M.D.
, has a heart for the Jonesboro community. In 2019, he moved from Virginia to become a full-time cardiologist for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Jonesboro Clinic
. His hire added a more permanence to the clinic, which was originally established in 2012.
Before Lee, the cardiology program relied on once-a-month traveling clinics from Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. Today, the program sees more than 100 patients monthly, and its reputation has spread throughout the community.
"There's a lot of trust in Arkansas Children's Hospital. That reputation makes it a little bit easier when a patient comes into your office," Lee said. "But at the same time, I'm also trying to build personal trust with patients. When I meet them, we discuss how they're doing, and I try to be friendly and accessible."
What the cardiology program offers
The top services provided by the ACH Jonesboro Clinic's cardiology program are evaluations, echocardiograms, EKGs, Holter monitor and event monitor recordings. A traveling physician also sees adult congenital heart patients. Other physicians rotate to provide services like fetal echos.
Most patients have heart murmurs, palpitations, chest pain and syncope (fainting). The program also treats patients with congenital heart disease lesions. More complex cases are referred to ACH.
"Arkansas Children's Hospital provides a big facility to draw upon. It's one of U.S. News & World Report's best hospitals in the country for cardiology care. We have a big team down in Little Rock to assist us with everything," Lee said. "But we can provide 80 to 90% of cardiology care right here."
The clinic counsels families about cardiology conditions and treats them via testing and medications.
Cardiology care is unique at the ACH Jonesboro Clinic because specially-trained experts care for pediatric patients versus adults, a distinction that matters. For instance, Holter or event monitor recordings performed in an adult-centered hospital commonly look for conditions like atrial fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia, which are uncommon in pediatrics.
"The major issue with adults is usually heart failure, heart disease or heart attacks. They have different problems which generate from those conditions. Kids don't have those same problems. They have other rhythm abnormalities or congenital abnormalities causing the other problems," Lee said. "Their presentation, the way they look, their examinations, their monitors, their EKGs, all look very different from that of an adult. They're very separate worlds. If you have all the studies done at an adult hospital, they won't be as informative as a place with a specific focus on pediatrics. We're looking for very specific things, for specific abnormalities and that way, we can say this is OK, significant or abnormal."
The clinic provides expert care beyond Jonesboro. Lee said they often see patients from the north-central and northeast parts of the state and the Missouri bootheel.
Telehealth, or remote appointments with a physician or specialist via video chat or phone, has become more popular since the COVID-19 pandemic. While other hospitals in the area offer telehealth, ACH Jonesboro Clinic is one of the few offering it for fetal diagnosis. The patient can have a fetal echocardiogram done in Jonesboro while a specialist in Little Rock interprets the images almost in real-time.
"They're on the monitor, and the doctor could tell the technologist, 'I need you to move this way' or 'I need you to get an image of this.' That's pretty unusual," Lee said. "Most places have you go to a separate facility for a fetal echocardiogram. But in Jonesboro, it can be done locally."
Lee admits he's worked at other places where it can take a long time to send test-related imaging between health care entities. But at ACH Jonesboro Clinic, it's almost instantaneous. Knowing their child's test results quickly is a plus for parents.
“A lot of parents are relieved when they come in for a visit and are given answers right away,” Lee said.
Building trust & understanding
In a rural area, trust in the medical community is vital. ACH Jonesboro Clinic has established full-time cardiology care and roughly 14 other subspecialties, a mix of full-time or traveling clinics. Being an Arkansas Children's clinic and with its partnership with St. Bernards Medical Center across the street, patients receive quality, close-to-home care.
"I try to get back to the patients as quickly as possible. If I'm not able to, I have my nurses try to get back to them. It's not one of the situations where you call, and you get an answer from us five days later," Lee said. "We try to keep that communication line open all the time. And patients who have the MyChart app through Epic can contact me, and I can send a message back to them. We maintain good open lines of communication with patients."
For Lee, it's more than being open to his pediatric cardiology patients. It's a journey he's walked himself. As an infant, Lee was diagnosed with congenital heart disease, a bicuspid aortic valve, a fairly common abnormality. It's what drew him into cardiology, giving him a unique insight into what his patients are going through beyond just their physical condition.
“I understand what they’re facing, what they’re going through and so I understand some of their anxieties,” Lee said.