It's Saturday morning in New York. Two ten-year-old boys, one named Kenneth, await their grandfather's arrival. This Saturday morning routine is both familiar and exciting. It's the day they get to go on rounds with their grandfather, a dedicated physician, at Columbia Mount Sinai In New York City. It's the late 1960's, an era where physicians were largely hands-on, relying on the cornerstones of patient examinations and diagnostics, instead of the technologies of today. This close proximity to the medical profession was nothing new for Kenneth who came from a very long line of doctors. In fact, his grandfather's apartment doubled as an office to see his patients. It wasn't unusual to open the door and see patients sitting in the front room waiting to be seen. It was a place where Kenneth got an up close and personal look at the inner workings of being a doctor.
Fast forward to 2018, and you'll find Kenneth, now Dr. Sternberg, keeping busy as a cardiologist at Augusta Health. The face of medicine has changed drastically since his days shadowing his grandfather during rounds. Injectable cholesterol drugs, new drugs for congestive heart failure that decrease readmission rates, new devices to keep the heart quiet in the cath lab, bio-absorbable stents, gene therapy to help regrow the heart muscle, and even robotic surgery are just a few of the wonders of modern cardiology. "New things are coming out every month, whether it's new drugs or new procedures. I'm fascinated by the things that have changed in my twenty years of being in medicine," explains Dr. Sternberg.
Dr. Sternberg is one of two interventional cardiologists on a team of thirteen at Augusta Health. Seeing patients twice a week and doing procedures the other two to three days a week is a balance that suits him well. In speaking with Dr. Sternberg, the enthusiasm for his patients and his work are palpable. So, it's no surprise when he says, "To me, medicine is a fabulous field. I'm never bored. I love coming to work. I've never once not wanted to come to work."
Always looking for ways to improve patient care, Dr. Sternberg has created a vein program at Augusta Health. The program helps patients with venous insufficiency which occurs when the valves in the veins don't work properly causing a pooling of the blood. For the thirty million patients suffering from venous insufficiency, the condition causes pain, swelling, heaviness, fatigue, restless leg syndrome, and even loss of limbs. Venous disease is highly disruptive to daily life, but only two million people get properly treated. "Unfortunately, most people ignore it until it's too late. So, it's important for patients to be aware of their symptoms and certainly seek advice as to whether they need treatment," advises Dr. Sternberg.
Twenty years ago, venous disease patients would have undergone a major vascular procedure to strip the veins followed by a lengthy recovery process. Amazingly, venous disease patients now benefit from a short outpatient procedure. Dr. Sternberg can use a special catheter to complete a radiofrequency ablation to close the vein within a matter of hours. "Now we can go in with just a little needle stick in the leg. We close the vein with heat, and the person walks out two hours later, and the vein is closed, and they have tremendous symptomatic relief," Dr. Sternberg explains.
Whether it's his work in cardiology or the vein program, it's clear that Dr. Sternberg is passionate about helping his patients live their best lives. He even has loyal patients that travel from New Jersey where he practiced medicine until 2008, to continue seeing him at Augusta Health. Prevention is also an important part of Dr. Sternberg's work. When asked what his best advice is for heart health, he offers, "No smoking, lots of exercise, and eat as many vegetables and legumes as possible. Limit your animal protein intake, and avoid oils and saturated fat."
It seems Dr. Sternberg's enthusiasm for medicine also extends to his children. One of his seven sons is currently an internal medicine resident at Virginia Commonwealth University. Notably, another son is training to become a Navy Seal, and his twin sons are world class wake surfers. Dr. Sternberg offers this advice when considering a career in health care or otherwise, "Pick a profession that you enjoy rather than the financial aspect because you've got to get up and do it every day, and the money isn't important if you don't like it."
Dr. Sternberg's enthusiasm is contagious and filters into how he speaks about his work, his patients, and his family. Perhaps it's no surprise that his answer to the question of what he'd like his legacy to be is focused on these things as well. "I'd like my legacy to be that I was a good guy that took really good care of my family and my patients," he says thoughtfully. If building a good legacy is the result of cumulative moments spent in a worthwhile way, then Dr. Sternberg is undoubtedly creating an enduring one.