Dr. Saha ends term as CT Surgery Division Chief

Dr. Sibu SahaOn April 1, Dr. Sibu Saha ended his term as Chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the University of Kentucky. Succeeding him as chief, Dr. Michael Sekela inherits a division with fully accredited fellowship and I-6 residency programs, a re-energized heart transplant program, and a clinical faculty composed of experienced and highly skilled cardiac, thoracic, transplant, and congenital heart surgeons.

 Thanks to the determination of UK HealthCare’s leadership over the last two decades, CT Surgery has surged into the forefront of cardiac and thoracic patient care in this region. Continuing the traditional post general surgery two–year fellowship and the recent creation of an I-6 residency program demonstrates the division’s efforts to educate the future generation of cardiothoracic surgeons to address the state and national shortage of surgeons in this field.

“It’s been a privilege to witness the tremendous expansion of UK HealthCare as a leading academic medical center. I consider myself lucky to have been invited to play a modest role in that expansion,” Saha said.

Dr. Saha was originally recruited to Lexington in the late 1970s, starting a heart surgery program to enhance the cardiovascular center at Central Baptist Hospital. As one of the founding directors of the Baptist Heart Institute, Saha developed close ties with UK HealthCare faculty. Several UK general surgery residents did a CT surgery rotation with him and some eventually became successful CT surgeons.

In the late 1990s, a dip in the volume of cardiac surgical cases at UK HealthCare led the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) to suspend the fellowship program. In 2000, Dr. Robert Mentzer, chair of the UK Department of Surgery and director of the UK Transplant Center, approached Saha with an offer to join the clinical faculty and help restore the fellowship training program.

“Mentzer and Dr. [Victor] Ferraris [serving as the division chief] were working very hard to restore the CT Surgery training program at UK. But the ACGME required a minimum volume of surgical cases to earn full accreditation,” explained Saha. Adding his clinical practice to UK helped the program get back on its feet and deepened his connection with UK. That connection clearly made a deep impression on Saha because he remembers the exact date – January 6, 2002 – when he became a full-time member of the UK faculty.

Soon afterward, Michael Karpf, MD was named the UK HealthCare Executive Vice President of Health Affairs, heralding a period of rapid facility and clinical service growth on the medical campus that continues today.  With the 2007 recruitment of Dr. Joseph Zwischenberger, a well-known general thoracic surgeon, there was a corresponding growth in the UK Department of Surgery. In 2013, Saha was named interim chief of the CT Surgery division. Soon thereafter, the position was made permanent by the College of Medicine Dean and the EVPHA.

Working with UK leadership, Dr. Saha recruited Dr. Mike Sekela to return to UK. Sekela had founded UK’s heart transplant program in the 90s and was operating a successful private practice in Lexington.

“Sekela’s return put another well-established Kentucky heart surgeon into UK HealthCare at a critical time. The division needed a skilled surgeon to mentor the fellows.  Mike’s experience at practice management also helped me manage the division and ensured day-to-day workflow,” Saha said.

In the relatively brief time in which Saha served as division chief, CT Surgery has achieved a number of significant milestones.  He re-energized the heart and lung transplant program through the recruitment of national leaders. “I was very fortunate to recruit outstanding new surgeons and transplant pulmonologists to the division. The net result has been substantial increases in the numbers and quality of our thoracic transplants and mechanical circulatory support such as ECMO and ventricular assist devices,” Saha said.

In addition to the transplant surgeons, UK HealthCare has also welcomed new thoracic surgeons with skills in minimally invasive procedures. Likewise, he participated in the groundbreaking collaboration with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to bring pediatric heart surgery back to Lexington.  

In education, the I-6 CT Surgery residency program began under his leadership and now runs parallel to the traditional residency.

“We have graduated a new CT surgeon from our program every year since the restart. They are all board certified and gainfully employed since leaving the University of Kentucky. I have even had the privilege of practicing alongside a few as faculty members,” Saha said. “Both programs are necessary for UK to address the severe shortage of qualified CT surgeons.”

Whether as a faculty member or division chief, Saha’s personal motto has always been to promote Innovation, Collaboration, and Education in order to provide the best possible level of care to patients in Kentucky. That sensibility is a constant at the University of Kentucky and it accounts for all the growth that has occurred throughout the start of the 21st century.

 “I am thankful to have been given the privilege of a leadership role at the University of Kentucky and now to continue my service as program director and clinical provider. Dr. Sekela shares the same level of dedication to the University of Kentucky. His experience as a surgeon, educator, and practice manager will enable him to lead our division to even greater levels of success.”