Chicago medical duo operating first-of-its-kind cardiac care prevention clinic
CHICAGO - February is American Heart Month.
In a Fox 32 special report, Dawn Hasbrouck introduces you to a medical dynamic duo that’s serving up a combo platter of cardiac prevention.
Arika Clark Alejo has a pretty healthy lifestyle. Among other things, she eats oatmeal and exercises, both on a regular basis.
"I like to do other types of workouts. I like to spin. I like to do Pilates," Alejo said.
Despite that, she found herself having some heart trouble a few years ago.
"I was having chest pains. A lot of tightness in my chest for a very long time," she said.
Given her family history, her mom and a friend urged her to see a doctor. After doing a little research, she met Dr. Max Fitzgerald and Dr. Danny Luger.
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"Max, I wouldn’t say we were friends. More rivals. Both amazing tennis stars in our day," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald and Lugar have known each other since they were 5 years old. They grew up together in Highland Park and both went to Northwestern University and then Rush Medical College.
"So I started referring a lot of patients to him out of the gate and said there is a huge overlap here. We should put together a clinic and join forces. And also, I just wanted to hang out with him," said Luger.
Dr. Luger is a cardiologist and Dr. Fitzgerald is a physiatrist. Together, they are running a first-of-its-kind clinic at Rush Oak Park Hospital.
The Rush Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease opened in July 2021 and Alejo was their first patient.
"They are so funny. They are so nice and so kind and just, they’re all in," Alejo said.
"I think legitimately there’s a part of our dynamic that we bring into the room with us," Luger said. "We’re close friends. We treat our patients like they’re friends with us."
Patients like Alejo meet with Dr. Luger first. He spends nearly an hour not only going over their medical history, but also just getting to know them.
"I never feel rushed. I’m like, does he have other patients? Because they actually listen to you," Alejo said.
Dr. Luger says many of his patients don’t have cardiovascular disease yet, but they have all the risk factors that sets them up for that risk.
"We take pride in identifying these risk factors, plugging them in early before they have manifested disease and aggressively managing those risk factors to prevent any bad outcomes," Luger said.
After Dr. Luger compiles the patient's medical concerns and gets an idea of what their everyday looks like, he consults with Dr. Fitzgerald to put together a tailor-made prevention plan for that person.
"We view obesity and sedentary lifestyle as a joint endeavor. So we both work on nutrition, mental health and then I focus a lot on movement," Fitzgerald said. "But there’s a lot of overlap and our goal is to make sure that we cover all of our angles and bases with patients."
Sometimes that might include helping a patient get rid of any aches and pains in their knees or back that’s stopping them from exercising. Or doing a mental health evaluation to help them see why they are overeating.
Then Dr. Fitzgerald spends another 40 minutes with the patient, getting to know them and talking about what comes next.
"We’re not trying to give you something so complicated there’s no way I could implement this in my life. This is just how could you fit in 10 to 15 minutes of activity a couple times a week," Fitzgerald said.
For Alejo, they helped her fine tune her diet and learn how to manage her stress level.
"I’m down almost 20 pounds. So that feels really, really, good. I feel like in general, my stress management is pretty good. I’m human, so there are some days it isn’t good," Alejo said.
For days like that, Dr. Luger and Dr. Fitzgerald say their door is always open.
"This is about making prevention personal. We are really setting out to meet people where they are," Fitzgerald said.
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Luger: "I would describe our relationship more as me being more of a mentor to Max and him just following in my footsteps. I’m happy to take him under my wing and just coach him."
Fitzgerald: "I appreciate that. Thank you."
Luger: "It’s been rewarding to see your growth."
So far, Rush's Cardiac Care Prevention Clinic has about 100 patients ranging in age from 22 to 88-years-old.
For more information, visit the clinic’s website at Rush Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease.
Clinic phone number: 888-352-7874