A national survey lists the very best physicians in Memphis
Just what the doctor ordered. Every great city demands great doctors. Although adequate funding and state-of-the-art facilities play an important role in developing viable medical care, it is the ingenuity and dedication of great medical minds that truly raise the bar. In light of this, we present a list of the top doctors in Memphis. The following physicians have dedicated their life's work to medical research and/or treatment, and they offer their services to patients all over the greater Memphis area.
The list provides information on a wide range of specialists, from gastroenterologists to thoracic surgeons. We hope it will not only help our readers find the very best physicians in town, but also give Memphians an idea of the caliber of medical research that puts Memphis on the map.
To compile this list, we contacted the New York-based research group Castle Connolly Medical, which annually conducts national surveys of the best doctors in America. Their physician-led team of researchers follows a rigorous screening process to select the best doctors on both the regional and national levels. Using mail and telephone surveys, as well as electronic ballots, they asked physicians and the medical leadership of hospitals to identify highly skilled, exceptional doctors.
Our list is arranged alphabetically by specialty. After that, we provide the doctor's name, the name and address of their group or clinic, their phone number, their areas of expertise, and their hospital affiliation.
Remember that choosing a physician is an important, and very personal, decision. If you are happy with the care you are receiving from your doctor, there is no reason to change physicians. But if you are searching for a new doctor, or perhaps need access to a specialist, this list can be your guide to some of the most qualified physicians in the Memphis area. >>>
Dr. Frederick A. Boop
He drives a pickup truck, listens to soft rock and jazz, and counts his wife and two children among his best friends. He skips breakfast — "my wife and doctor tell me I'm bad," he smiles — works 12-hour days, and relaxes when he can with water sports and biking.
He's Dr. Frederick Boop, chief of the busiest children's brain tumor surgery and epilepsy programs in the nation. Employed by Semmes-Murphey Clinic, Boop describes the situation as "unique," in that a large private-practice group runs the neurology and neurosurgical residency program for Le Bonheur Children's Medical Center and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. "We're fortunate," says Boop, "that both hospitals are willing to bring patients here regardless of their ability to pay. As our program's founder Dr. Alex Sanford once said, 'I can't imagine anything more horrible than finding out your kid has a brain tumor except to learn your insurance won't let you see the doctor of your choice." Last year, the program treated 165 patients, and already this year it's seen more than 60 brain tumor patients. "Other similar centers see maybe 35 all year," says Boop.
A former English major and the soft-spoken son of a neurosurgeon (who studied under Semmes-Murphey founder, Dr. Eustace Semmes), Boop says of his profession, "It's not easy. It wears on you. The kids do fine. But it takes its toll on the parents. I hold their hands and tell them, 'We're going to walk this road together.'"
Some 40 percent of the children Boop and his colleagues treat have been told their tumor is inoperable. "So if we can remove it," he says, "that's pretty exciting." Among these was a Guatemalan boy with a tumor in his brain's pineal region. "Other children in that country with the same kind of tumor had died," says Boop. "But we removed his tumor, St. Jude treated the boy with chemotherapy, and he went home a perfectly normal kid. His father had been killed in a car accident, and this boy was all his mother had, so the hugs from her were unbelievable."
He credits the climbing cure rate — 75 to 80 percent compared to 30 to 35 percent when he joined the program 10 years ago — in part to technological advances. Most surgeries are done under a microscope that "costs about as much as my house," says Boop. "It has great light, automatic zoom, and gives us an image-guided system." When Le Bonheur's current expansion is complete, operating rooms will have an intraoperative MRI scanner, the newest and most powerful in the country. "Right now, after surgery, we send the child to ICU overnight," says Boop, "and do an MRI scan the next day to see if any of the tumor was left behind. With this new equipment, we'll be able to see if anything is left before we close up."
Technology also aids patients with epilepsy, a common result of brain tumors. With magnetoencephalography, a child wears a helmet with sensors that pick up the brain's electrical activity. "When the patient talks, a specific area of the brain lights up, so we can see that activity and avoid that area in surgery," says Boop. "The machine can also pick up an abnormal electrical activity, or seizure focus, and we can go in and take that out."
Hearing from former patients and their families is gratifying to Boop, who receives graduation notices, wedding invitations, holiday cards, photographs — including one of a 2-year-old boy in an Elvis wig. "You realize that kid wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for you," he says quietly. "That's where the rewards come." — Marilyn Sadler
Dr. Barrett Haik
"My father never took vacations," reflects Dr. Barrett Haik. "But our family would visit eye institutes around the world. We'd go to Barcelona, Geneva, or Paris, and we'd visit eye institutes. I learned a lot about ophthalmology very early." Counting no fewer than 25 ophthalmologists on his family tree, Haik has risen to the top of a field he knew would be his life's challenge as early as middle school. Now the Hamilton Professor and Chair of Ophthalmology at the UT Health Science Center's Hamilton Eye Institute, Haik continues to find inspiration in preserving — and often saving — one of life's greatest gifts.
Says Haik, "Once you get into the miracle of vision, you realize that, even though none of us has the capability of fully understanding the complexity of [eyesight], there are parts you can understand, and parts you can fix. There's nothing more satisfying than seeing somebody's vision improved or saved. You have to attack that in a very complex way."
There weren't many eye cancer centers when Haik was developing his expertise at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York in the late Seventies and early Eighties. A native of New Orleans, Haik returned to his hometown to work and teach at Tulane before a peer — in Texas, no less — recommended he explore career possibilities in Memphis. Notes Haik, "The combination of getting to come to the University of Tennessee and build the ophthalmology department, and to work at St. Jude, Le Bonheur, Baptist, and Methodist — all mission-based hospitals — was really attractive."
Haik has thrived in the Memphis medical community since 1995, embracing both the depth and breadth of impact he's been able to make within a network of cooperating doctors and hospitals. "There's nothing more satisfying than caring for one patient," says Haik, "but if you truly want to have a more significant impact, then you have to teach others to do the best things possible, give others complementary — or superior — expertise to your own. That's the purpose of the Hamilton Eye Institute. It's a group of expanding circles, and everything you teach is magnified exponentially." Haik estimates that more than 40,000 patients went through Hamilton in 2008, and the institute has yet to celebrate its third birthday.
As the chief of the Ophthalmology Division at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Haik has wrestled with the added complexities of cancer in still-growing eyes. "There can be a problem of over-healing in young patients," he explains, "and it depends on the individual situation, how you modify that."
Ophthalmology is a different field, in many ways, from that studied and practiced by Haik's father and older relatives. Cataract surgery, while still complex, is more "predictable and trainable," according to Haik. Despite the human eye being among the most complicated parts of our anatomy, technology and research seem to be catching up. "You can now take a good surgeon," notes Haik, "and make him a great surgeon."
Haik has come to appreciate the joy of hearing from patients he saw as children after they've reached adulthood and achieved various life milestones. "You may not have heard from someone in 15 years, and all of a sudden you receive an announcement of a birth," says Haik. "There's also the beauty of seeing someone you trained. I'll go to an American Academy of Ophthalmology meeting and someone I trained will be up there giving a lecture while I'm sitting there taking notes feverishly. The best thing you can do is be surpassed by your students."
— Frank Murtaugh
Dr. Patricia Adams-Graves
Sitting in her office on Madison, Dr. Patricia Adams-Graves has to stop and compose herself before she can talk about the "shameful thing" that afflicted her family and killed her cousin 30 years ago. The culprit was sickle cell disease (SCD), which was little understood at the time. Doctors treated patients "like they were drug addicts always seeking pain killers," says Adams-Graves. "The catastrophic complications that these people lived with were virtually unknown — or ignored."
Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Adams-Graves came to the University of Tennessee in Memphis to focus her medical studies on oncology and women's health issues. One of her professors suggested she gain experience by working in The Med's Diggs-Kraus Sickle Cell Center, the nation's oldest center devoted to the treatment and research of SCD. "Cancer in general was getting a lot of attention, especially breast cancer, so I decided I could do more good here," she says. "The need, to me, was so much greater." She was named director of the Center in 1995.
Thanks to the efforts of the specialists at Diggs-Kraus, patients and the medical community at large are learning more about the wide-ranging complications of this lifelong, and incurable, disease. A genetic disorder that afflicts some 70,000 people — primarily African Americans and Hispanics — in the United States and millions worldwide, SCD causes red blood cells, which are normally round and smooth, to take on a distinctive "sickle" or crescent shape. The result is what Adams-Graves describes as "thick, sticky blood," which cannot carry oxygen efficiently and tends to clump up inside arteries and veins. This "vascular occlusion" can cause muscle pain, organ failure, stroke, heart attacks, and death.
The complications from SCD are often invisible, says Adams-Graves. "But imagine tying a rubber band tightly around your finger, cutting off the blood supply. That's what's happening to these patients, inside their bodies. And people living with SCD have unpredictable interruptions, never knowing when the next crisis will occur. So yes, they've earned the right to be on pain medications, but doctors need to separate the physical need for these meds from the mental need. I spend time with my patients, and I know they are not drug addicts. In the past, that's how they were perceived, that was the shame of it, but they require pain medicine just as a diabetic requires insulin."
Current treatment programs often include complete blood transfusions, sometimes on a monthly basis, because sickle cells only survive 14 days, compared to 120 days for normal blood cells. The SCD patient's body runs out of much-needed oxygen that much faster. Researchers are studying new medications to help the body produce small, but helpful, amounts of normal blood cells, while geneticists are examining the hereditary triggers that cause this disease. At present, however, there is still no cure.
"We are coming on a century of sickle cell disease in America, and it is still highly misunderstood," says Adams-Graves. "So I've been on a mission to see if I can make a difference in the lives of my patients."
— Michael Finger
Dr. Jewell Ward
As a medical geneticist, Dr. Jewell Ward's first order of business each day is battling heartbreak. She's made a career out of diagnosing, treating, and studying birth defects and metabolic disorders like phenylketonuria, or PKU (a genetic disorder that can lead to brain damage and seizures). Over 30 years in Memphis, though, Ward has seen what can only be described as epic advances in her field of study. While newborn screening a decade ago may have tested for eight conditions, tests today can help doctors identify as many as 50.
As chief of the Division of Medical Genetics at the UT Health Science Center, Ward has built her career on studying the health of not only her patients — young and old — but her patients' prenatal histories and family trees. "The cause of birth defects can be genetic or inherited," explains Ward, "or they can be caused by a chromosomal problem in the child not inherited from a parent. Could be just chance occurrence. People will also come in because of a family history of a certain condition. They want to know about the chance their child will get it."
Among Ward's challenges is the introduction of genetics to a conversation with patients who may not be well versed in the complexity of cross-generational ailments. "You have to be rigorous in your approach to diagnosing a case," says Ward, "but you have to be very compassionate in helping a family go through that process with you. First and foremost, you have to find out where the family is in terms of their education, their expectations, and what they bring in terms of their concerns for their baby."
Part of educating Ward's patients is an honest and clinical dismissal of any guilt a parent might feel for a child's inherited disease, which can be the result of a recessive gene the healthy parent has carried. "We say very quickly that this is nothing they could have done anything about," says Ward, "and it's nothing that either parent had anything to do with causing." The caveat, of course, comes when a new mother abused alcohol or drugs during her pregnancy. Even then, Ward emphasizes, there's room for compassion. A parent who has passed on a genetic disorder, it should be remembered, had to have inherited it first from his or her own parents. Heartbreaking maybe, but no guilt.
Ward feels blessed by how far the field of genetics has grown over her career. "We have gotten a lot more information," she emphasizes. "We've become more rigorous in our diagnoses, we've had more tests that are available. But with the advent of the Human Genome Project, that just took us leaps and bounds toward confirming many of our suspicions [about genetic disorders]." She makes note of a "stuttering" in a certain sequence of DNA that is linked to seven different conditions, including Huntington's Disease. "It became essentially a 100-percent test," she says. "You either have it or you don't."
Perhaps most inspiring to Ward and her peers is the growing hope for people afflicted with genetic disorders. With advances in treatment also come economic benefits. "PKU does not cause a child to die," notes Ward. "It causes a child to become cognitively impaired if they're not treated. The dietary treatment was found in the late Fifties and early Sixties, so newborn screening was begun. State legislatures supported the screening not because they could save five brains a year; they did so to prevent five damaged brains in institutions."
Ward acknowledges an ethical element to advances in newborn screening, decisions that will have to be made about just how much information in a genetic code is enough. But with more study comes more clarity. And less heartbreak. — FM
Dr. Furhan Yunus
Dr. Furhan Yunus has called Memphis home for the past 20 years. Born and raised in Pakistan, he immigrated to the U.S. "because I wanted to be in the best medical system in the world."
After receiving his medical training at the University of Tennessee and the University of Arizona, Yunus returned to Memphis, where he is now chief medical officer of the UT Cancer Institute (UTCI) and director of the UT Blood and Marrow Transplant Center. With almost 20 oncologists on staff, UTCI is the largest adult cancer service provider in the region, currently handling some 5,000 new cancer patients each year. The transplant center treats hematological malignancies, or cancers of the bloodstream, such as leukemia and lymphomas. A different division of UT is responsible for solid organ transplants.
Over the years, Yunus has witnessed important changes in his field.
"Hematology, oncology, and transplantation are some of the fastest-changing sub-specialties, because of the huge amount of basic research and the increasing number of clinical trials," he says. "In addition, cancer research in general garners the largest share of the financial pie, and that has led to dramatic advances in understanding the basic biology of cancer."
The result is a significant improvement in the way cancers are now treated. "In the past 15 or 20 years, we have gone from a very simplistic way of treating cancer by chemotherapy only, to giving patients designer — or 'smart' — drugs that are genetically engineered," says Yunus. "The drugs are individually tailored for each patient, so two lung cancer patients may get two completely different types of treatment. And because they are individualized, based on the patient's genetic makeup, they have little or no side effects."
These new treatments are also much more convenient for the patient. Instead of checking into a hospital for several weeks of chemotherapy, Patients can now take a pill at home, "just like taking a pill for high blood pressure," says Yunus.
He is cautiously optimistic about the future of cancer treatments. "We have been much more successful at treating hematological cancers like leukemia. Even if we are not curing [the patients], we are at least letting them live much longer than in the past. That is probably one of the most gratifying surprises, in terms of the advances that science has made, and we have helped deliver those new treatments to patients here."
He gives an example. Years ago, a patient diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a particularly aggressive type of cancer, might live three years after diagnosis. "On average, most patients are living six or seven years," says Yunus, "and I have patients even living ten years or longer."
Research on solid forms of cancer isn't progressing quite as rapidly, but there is still hope.
"Science is working at a steady pace," says Yunus. "Someday we can make cancer a chronic disease instead of a fatal one." — MF
Dr. William H. Kutteh
When Dr. Billy Kutteh and his family moved from Dallas to Memphis in 1996, he quickly made note of the differences between the cities. "In the five years I lived in Dallas, I'd never have met my neighbors if I hadn't made the effort," he says. "When we came here, and the moving van pulled into our driveway in Germantown, the guy across the street went out and got us dinner, a lady next door brought over a plant, and another lady delivered fresh-baked cookies." That's how life was for Kutteh growing up in the small town of Statesville, North Carolina:"You knew your neighbors and you were there to help them out. I like seeing that here."
On the other hand, Memphis had its drawbacks, especially in his medical specialty of reproductive endocrinology. "I noticed more reluctance to seek treatment for infertility. Maybe it's because this is the Bible Belt, and they think, 'If God meant for us to have kids, we'd have them.'" Gradually, however, this father of three is seeing that attitude change.
Married to an ob/gyn doc, Kutteh is also the son of one. "I remember the schedule my dad kept, and how we'd be leaving on vacation and he'd have to cancel the trip to deliver a baby, and I made up my mind I'd do something else." But a research stint at Duke sparked his interest in the female reproductive system. Today he heads UT's division of reproductive endocrinology and is director of Fertility Associates of Memphis, working with partner Dr. Raymond Ke.
Kutteh sees patients who for some reason can't get pregnant, as well as those who can't carry the pregnancies to term. He recalls one woman who'd had 19 pregnancies. "We'd done every test and procedure and none of them worked," he says. "So we sat down and came up with a recipe of what we'd try next. I don't know if it was chance, the right timing, or what, but it worked. I'd laugh and call her my worst patient, but she's definitely one of my best success stories."
He also works with patients who'll be undergoing chemotherapy, which almost always results in sterility. While freezing men's sperm for future fertilization is common, removing women's eggs, or oocytes, is still a developing technology. But Kutteh sees progress: "A leading embryologist came to work in our lab and do hands-on education and training. Now our first patient whose eggs were frozen and thawed is pregnant — not delivered, but pregnant."
To raise awareness about reproductive possibilities, Kutteh believes primary care physicians are "the lifeline." He writes a letter to each patient's referring physician advising them that after a year and a half of infertility, certain tests are appropriate. "We don't want to say, 'I can't believe you don't know this,'" says Kutteh. "We're subtle, but we want to elevate the level of understanding and care."
Castle Connolly's physician-led team of researchers follows a rigorous screening process to select top doctors on both the national and regional levels. Careful screening of doctors' educational and professional experience is essential before final selection is made among those physicians most highly regarded by their peers. Physicians selected for inclusion in this magazine's "Top Doctors" feature may also appear as Regional Top Doctors online at www.castleconnolly.com, or in one of Castle Connolly's Top Doctors guides, such as America's Top Doctors or America's Top Doctors for Cancer. $34.95 • Available online at www.CastleConnolly.com via toll-free #1-800-399-D*O*C*S (3627) or at all major national bookstore chains.
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