General News

The Three Greek Doctors Who Treated His All-Holiness Discuss the Experience

NEW YORK – Three Greek cardiologists at the top of their field, Dr George Dangas, Dr Stamatios Lerakis, and Dr George Syros, treated His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York just as he completed the many scheduled events of his Apostolic Visit to the United States. The doctors spoke with The National Herald about the experience and about His All-Holiness’ health.

Dr. Dangas: I Will Always Remember His All-Holiness’ Vigor

Dr. George Dangas, Director of Cardiovascular Innovation at the Zena and Michael A. Weiner Cardiovascular Institute of the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, was impressed – and at the same time moved – by the patience and vigor shown by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, throughout his hospitalization at Mount Sinai.

Dr. Dangas spoke of a “special occasion” for the medical staff of Mount Sinai Hospital – namely for the Greek doctors – expressing once again his satisfaction for the smooth progress of His All-Holiness’ health, which was achieved thanks to the foresight and know-how of himself and his colleagues.

“I confess it was a special occasion for everyone and for me, personally. We are all excited about his visit, but when an urgent health problem arose in New York I think we all did our best to deal with it in the best possible way. I will remember his persistence and patience to have personal contact with the entire Greek community and, of course, the courage he showed throughout his visit to the U.S. and throughout his presence in the hospital. The strength was huge, the mental strength was huge,” said Dr. Dangas.

According to Dr. Dangas- although he could not speak with certainty about how immediate the danger was- His All-Holiness’ problem had to be dealt with properly, in order not to create more difficult situations in the near future.

“One cannot know how things develop with heart disease. Sometimes there are some warnings, that is how things go. No one can be absolute in these things, but surely now we are in a better condition than we were 2-3 days ago,” Dr. Dangas noted, adding that he is not able to judge if something more could have been done during the hospitalization of Patriarch Bartholomew in Washington, DC, but expressed his joy at the fact that His All-Holiness completed his demanding program in the United States.

“I cannot say anything because I do not know what the situation was there. However, I am glad that in one way or another his apostolic visit was completed, and I realized how much he wanted to complete it,” Dr. Dangas said.

Finally, assessing the state of health of His All-Holiness, Dr. Dangas said that, although the Ecumenical Patriarch is at an age when health issues may arise, nevertheless for the specific chronic problem it was the best possible outcome and, at least for the time being, it has been completely treated.

“All the problems at this age somehow exist in one way or another. We have greatly improved it, we have eliminated it at the moment, but these problems are chronic, they are not something that is completely gone. However, there are proper guidelines and appropriate medications to continue with. Furthermore, as it’s widely known, after a few procedures there are special directions and guidelines that need to be followed and we will move forward with those in mind.”

Dr. George Syros: The Operation Was Difficult and Necessary

Dr. George Syros, cardiologist and the Director of Arrhythmia Services at Mount Sinai Queens, spoke with TNH about the health of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the stent placement surgery which His All-Holiness underwent on November 3 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

“No one can predict what could happen on the plane or in the future, only the Almighty. On the other hand, if it was a relative of mine, I would prefer to do this procedure immediately, as we did, in order to be 100% safe,” said Dr. Syros, adding that “His All-Holiness is at the moment in very good health and we believe that his recovery will be rapid and he will be able to return with great success to his busy schedule, as we had believed.”

According to Dr. Syros, the medical file of His All-Holiness arrived in his hands following the actions of his personal physician, Dr. John Thomas, who wanted to obtain a more specialized view of the results of the tests Patriarch Bartholomew underwent at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC. According to him, after a thorough study, he found that the situation was not as simple as it was initially presented.

“I had the opportunity to study in depth the discharge papers that His All-Holiness had received from Washington. It seemed that things were not as simple as the doctors in Washington thought they were. In particular, it appeared that something was going on, on a chronic basis, and that something more probably had happened that needed to be further investigated. We decided on and did a CT scan which, with special software available in the U.S., we processed further, and came to a conclusion, together with colleagues from California, that there was something that needed angiography in order to find out how serious it was. Since we really confirmed what we suspected clinically, we decided to do the angioplasty by Dr. George Dangas, which with great success restored the blood flow to His All-Holiness,” said Dr. Syros, who also praised the input of his colleagues Dr. Stamatios Lerakis and Dr. Shamin Sharma.

Of course, the rapid developments regarding the Ecumenical Patriarch’s health have raised questions about his quick discharge from the hospital in Washington, but also whether his health may have been burdened by his particularly demanding schedule both in the capital, as well as in New York. For his part, Dr. Syros noted that the exact clinical picture could only be assessed by a specialist.

“I do not want to talk about mistakes or blame my colleagues. What Dr. Thomas did was ask for the help of a more specialized doctor like me. If a fellow cardiologist had seen the Patriarch in Washington, he would probably have followed the same procedures. On the other hand, it was God’s will that this be done in New York, as I believe that this operation can be done in very few medical centers in the world. Our Patriarch was here and we were able to deal with this ailment with a collective effort, from doctors who are also Greek, such as Dr. Lerakis, our leader Dr. Dangas, and myself. We could all talk together and at a high level, in order to deal with this condition from many angles and successfully,” concluded Dr. Syros.

Dr. Syros Accompanies the Patriarch to Constantinople

Dr. George Syros, cardiologist and Director of Arrhythmia Services at Mount Sinai Queens. (Photo: TNH/ Zafeiris Haitidis)

As he mentioned to TNH, Dr. Syros accompanied the Ecumenical Patriarch on his trip to Constantinople, so that His All-Holiness himself could feel security in the presence of a specialist, given that he was traveling so soon after the operation.

“His All-Holiness did me the honor and invited me to accompany him and it was a great honor for me to be by his side and to attend the course of his journey. It is not that he is in a serious condition, but it is good to have some escort. He is happy for me that I will be able to be with him and enjoy his company. His All-Holiness is such a simple man, as if we are talking about someone who lives for example here in Astoria. He is very gentle, very cooperative, very reasonable, and very understanding. As a patient it is a great joy to work with him, because he has common sense, he is very intelligent and he follows instructions. For me, he is the ideal patient. He has greatness of heart, as my spiritual father told me 22 years ago. A very good, approachable, and meek man,” said Dr. Syros, who revealed that he received many phone calls and messages from the Greek community.

“I would like to say a great thank you to the Greek community which was so concerned, it loves the Ecumenical Patriarch very much, something that proves it with the continuous messages to me and Dr. Dangas, who successfully performed a really difficult operation. It is a great joy that we have His All-Holiness with us and I wish that we continue to have him for many more years,” Dr. Syros said.

Dr. Stamatios Lerakis: The Calm of His All-Holiness Is Moving

Dr. Stamatios Lerakis, Director of Noninvasive Cardiology for Mount Sinai Heart and the Director of Imaging for Structural and Valve Interventions for the Mount Sinai Health System. (Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Stamatios Lerakis)

The mental strength shown by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is one of the elements that will remain engraved in the memory of the Director of Noninvasive Cardiology for Mount Sinai Heart and the Director of Imaging for Structural and Valve Interventions for the Mount Sinai Health System. Dr. Stamatios Lerakis spoke with TNH a few hours before the departure of His All-Holiness for Constantinople.

“I was very moved by his mental strength, composure, patience and endurance that he showed, in combination with his kindness, his simplicity, his love for the Greek Diaspora, as well as his intelligence, but also the great devotion he has for his work. He weighed everything, the advice we gave him and decided on his own to go ahead and do this operation, which, as you know, was done with great success and great efficiency, in order to overcome the chronic heart problem he had,” said Dr. Lerakis, adding that His All-Holiness, throughout the operation, was reassuring to everyone.

“I was in the room during the operation and what moved me, as I told you, was his patience and composure. I asked him ‘are you okay’ and he always replied ‘everything will be fine, do not worry, I’m doing very well.’ He gave us a lot of strength to finish the operation, as it happened, and everything went as planned,” Dr. Lerakis noted.

In fact, Dr. Lerakis added that His All-Holiness, even in the midst of a difficult procedure, did not lose his appetite for discussion, advising him when to honor his name day.

“A typical moment was when I asked him when to celebrate my name day, as there are different dates. He advised me to celebrate on August 16th. I told him that, from now on, this is what I will do,” said Dr. Lerakis.

The special features of the operation

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was released from Mount Sinai Hospital on November 5. He addressed the media with His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, at left, and His Grace Bishop Apostolos of Medeia. (Photo: TNH/ Matina Demelis)

Dr. Lerakis did not comment on the decision to discharge the Ecumenical Patriarch from George Washington University Hospital so soon, despite the fact that a few days later it was deemed necessary to place a stent.

“I do not want to say anything about the way the doctors treated him in Washington, because I was not there. So, I’m not able to say whether there were any additional tests or not. What I want to say is that the Ecumenical Patriarch, with the great mental strength that distinguishes him, his energy and dedication to his work, was able to complete the program of the visit – something he really wanted – and good luck brought him to a leading hospital, Mount Sinai, which is in the top 5 in the world in the field of Cardiology, where, with the love of the whole Greek community and ours, the doctors, what needed to be done was done,” said Dr. Lerakis, reiterating, however, that the situation was not simple and that the operation that was performed required special know-how.

“We utilize the axial of the coronary arteries, but in a more specialized form, with a bloodless hemodynamic evaluation of the stenosis in the coronary vessels. This evaluation was done bit by bit and at every point. To understand what I mean, there are stenoses that may seem serious to the eye and if you evaluate them they are not, there are others that are serious but initially appear that they are not. Without a catheter or other similar instrument, but only with photographs, we could find out which are the most dangerous stenoses and where they are located. There was a plan before Dr. Dangas did the cauterization. Because we have this ability and know-how, Dr. Dangas knew exactly how to tackle the problem in a targeted way. We did not waste any time. We knew what the dangerous stenoses were and in those, Dr. Dangas placed the stents. It was, therefore, a targeted operation and, above all, effective,” said Dr. Lerakis.

“It was God’s will for His All-Holiness to be in New York and at one of the best hospitals in the world in terms of cardiology. He was in the best place, in the best hands, and this great operation was performed with such great success. I want to reiterate that it was a great honor for me, that I had the blessing of being one of the lucky doctors who contributed to everything in the treatment of His All-Holiness. I’m moved – I repeat – about his composure and strength. I hope he does not have any other health problems and I hope he continues his work with even greater strength than ever, because I know that he loves it and wants to continue it as much as possible,” concluded Dr. Lerakis.



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