Sara Tabtabai, M.D., FACC

Sara Tabtabai, M.D., FACC

Trinity Health Of New England welcomed Sara Tabtabai, M.D., FACC,…

Trinity Health Of New England welcomed Sara Tabtabai, M.D., FACC, to their staff as the Regional Director of Heart Failure and Population Health in early 2021.

Heart failure is a disease that occurs when the heart is unable to adequately pump enough blood (which contains oxygen) to maintain the body’s metabolic needs. It can be caused by damage to the heart from heart attacks, infection, or poorly controlled high blood pressure, among other things. Individuals who progress to advanced stages of heart failure may require a heart transplant.

Dr. Tabtabai’s goal in her new role is to extend the successful model for heart failure care, established as part of the Hoffman Heart and Vascular Institute at Saint Francis Hospital, out to the other sites within the Trinity Health Of New England system. This regionalized approach to care will enable individuals diagnosed with heart failure to receive the quality care that the Saint Francis program is known for closer to home.

Dr. Tabtabai explains that the model at Saint Francis is a multidisciplinary program that cares for a large number of patients, with approximately eight hundred discharges per year. The goal of the heart failure program is to improve patient outcomes and reduce hospital readmission rates. Hospital readmission is a marker of poorly controlled disease.  She points out that the Saint Francis program’s readmission rates are lower than the national average. “That is a metric that we’re proud of and is a prime example of the quality of care we provide,” she says.

Dr. Tabtabai’s first step toward regional expansion has been to develop a heart failure clinic at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, another member of Trinity Health Of New England. She spent the first 10 months of her tenure developing a business plan, building a multidisciplinary care team, and mapping out processes for the clinic. The clinic officially opened in November 2021.

Dr. Tabtabai says, “Our goals to enhance access to high-quality heart failure care include providing additional satellite clinics within the communities that we serve.” In addition, she is working towards growing a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) program. Ventricular Assist Devices help patients with more advanced stages of heart failure. She expects this program to roll out within the year.

 

Connecticut Roots

Dr. Tabtabai grew up in Shelton, Connecticut where she says, “I had an interest in physiology and helping people, even in high school.” She pursued these interests by learning CPR and becoming a lifeguard. In college, she decided to pursue a career in medicine.  She completed a Bachelor of Science degree in behavioral neuroscience at Northeastern University in Boston. She explains that at the time Northeastern did not offer a specific pre-medical track but a degree in behavioral neuroscience served her interests and provided her with the prerequisites for medical school.

She opted to be near her family and attended the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. She notes that she tried to keep an open mind in medical school (and her internal medicine residency) as to what medical specialty she may want to pursue, though always held an interest in cardiology. Her interest in the physiology of internal medicine continued but she also very much liked obstetrics and gynecology.

It was during medical school that she gained significant exposure to the care of people with heart failure. As a medical student, she was able to shadow Richard Soucier, M.D., a cardiologist who, at that time, was integral to the initial development of the Saint Francis Heart Failure Program, during his clinics. She was also involved in some of his research activities creating a full circle moment upon her return Saint Francis Hospital and Trinity Health Of New England re-joining Dr. Soucier, who is now Trinity Health Of New England’s Regional Cardiology Physician Executive and Chief of Cardiology at Saint Francis Hospital.

After medical school, Dr. Tabtabai went on to complete a 3-year internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital where her interest in cardiology continued to evolve. She stayed on at Massachusetts General Hospital to complete a 3-year fellowship in cardiology followed by a 1-year fellowship in Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant. Dr. Tabtabai is board certified in cardiovascular disease, internal medicine, and advanced heart failure and transplant.

Dr. Tabtabai met her husband while in medical school. His family is also from Connecticut so “we decided to stay in New England to be near family.” They have three children between the ages of 7 and 2 who keep them busy and happy outside of work!

 

Women and Heart Disease

Dr. Tabtabai has been able to combine her interests in cardiology and women’s health. She explains that when cardiology as a field of medicine first started to focus on cardiovascular disease, it was thought to be mainly a disease of men. Because early studies did not include enough women, there was very little data or information about the effects of cardiovascular disease on women. Over time, however, there has been a realization that women are also affected by this disease and that the disease process and risk factors associated with it may not be the same as it is in men.

Dr. Tabtabai adds, “We’re coming to realize that there may be an early sort of window into a woman’s cardiovascular health later in life during pregnancy. Women who have adverse pregnancy outcomes like high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy or preeclampsia may be at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life.” This presents an opportunity for a woman to modify her behaviors and lifestyle to minimize her risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.

This knowledge led to the development of a Women’s Heart Program even before Dr. Tabtabai joined Trinity Health Of New England. She describes it as a very community-facing and collaborative program. It coordinates with the Comprehensive Women’s Health Center at Saint Francis to provide multidisciplinary services to women ,including cardiovascular health. Expanding this model of care to women across the region is also one of Dr. Tabtabai’s goals in her role as Regional Director.

 

Looking Forward

Dr. Tabtabai says that she and her colleagues are looking forward to re-engaging with the community on a more in-person level through both the Heart Failure and the Women’s Heart programs once it becomes safe to do so. She notes that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of telehealth and remote monitoring of patients with heart failure.  These tools will continue to be used to benefit patients but she looks forward to getting back to more in-person interactions with her patients.

 

Margaret M. Burke, Pharm.D., BCPPS, is a freelance 

medical writer with more than 25 years of clinical 

pharmacy experience, including board certification as 

a pediatric pharmacotherapy specialist. She lives in 

Manchester.

Stan Godlewski is an editorial, corporate and healthcare photographer based in Connecticut and working primarily between Boston and New York City.

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