Meet Cleveland Clinic’s New Leader
Tom Mihaljevic, MD, a cardiac surgeon who previously served as CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, became the new CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic on Jan. 1.
“To be CEO of Cleveland Clinic is a great responsibility,” Dr. Mihaljevic says. “Our patients come to us with tremendous expectations. We must meet and exceed those expectations, and assure that every patient who comes to us has the best outcome and experience.”
In his new position, Dr. Mihaljevic leads an $8 billion healthcare system that includes a main campus, 10 regional hospitals, 18 family health centers, and facilities in Florida, Nevada, Toronto, Abu Dhabi and, soon, London. He succeeds Toby Cosgrove, MD, who led Cleveland Clinic from 2004 to 2017 and now serves as executive advisor to the new administration.
"Tommy is his own man,” Bob Rich, Chair of Cleveland Clinic's Board of Directors, is quoted as saying in an article in The Plain Dealer. “But he has a keen appreciation for what the culture is, what brought us to where we are and what we have to do to stay in a leadership position. I think he's going to be a great leader not only in medicine around the world but in Cleveland, Ohio.”
From Croatia to Cleveland, With a Few Stops In Between
Dr. Mihaljevic's route to Cleveland Clinic’s top office took him from Croatia, to Switzerland, to Boston, to Cleveland, to Abu Dhabi, and now back to Cleveland.
Born in Zagreb, Croatia – then part of communist Yugoslavia – Dr. Mihaljevic earned his medical degree at Zagreb University. Because his family was anti-communist, his job options were limited. Dr. Mihaljevic volunteered where he could, and found work as a nurse assistant.
“I’ve done all the worst possible jobs you can have in a hospital,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”
He was accepted into the graduate program at Zurich University in Switzerland, where he trained with Marco Turina, MD, a leading cardiac surgeon in Europe. In 1995, out of a pool of 600 applicants, Dr. Mihaljevic was one of the five who were selected for surgical residencies at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Dr. Mihaljevic went on to become an associate surgeon in the Division of Cardiac Surgery, Director of the Cardiac Surgery Research Center, and assistant professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School. During much of that time, he was being recruited by Dr. Cosgrove to join Cleveland Clinic. In 2004, he joined the staff of Cleveland Clinic’s No. 1-ranked heart team.
“I had a gut feeling that Cleveland was the right place for me to be.”
An Experienced Leader
In 2010, he accepted Dr. Cosgrove’s invitation to join the soon-to-be-opened Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi as Chief of Staff and Chair of its Heart & Vascular Institute. He led a recruitment effort there that drew 5,500 applications for 175 physician posts, and he went on to launch the most advanced cardiovascular program in the Middle East.
As CEO of Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi from 2015 to 2017, he oversaw the opening in 2015 of the 365-bed hospital and clinic, with 3,000 caregivers. In the summer of 2017, the Board of Directors chose him from a large group of candidates to be the next Cleveland Clinic CEO.
Dr. Mihaljevic, who has given up his surgical practice to devote himself to his job as Cleveland Clinic's CEO and President, performed nearly 3,000 operations over the course of his career. He specialized in minimally invasive and robotic-assisted procedures, valve replacement and repair, image-guided surgery, heart failure and cardiac transplantation.
Continuing a Culture of Caring
“I’m an enthusiastic American,” Dr. Mihaljevic says. “And to me, Cleveland Clinic embodies all the ideas that make America great. That includes the opportunity to be the best you can, based on your individual merits and not your background.”
Today, Dr. Mihaljevic is busy meeting and learning from caregivers and members of the Cleveland Clinic community.
“I look forward to preserving and enhancing the culture and dynamics of this great organization,” he says.
His first official message to caregivers on New Year's Day reflected his determination to continue Cleveland Clinic’s culture of caring.
“Treat Cleveland Clinic and its resources as if they were yours,” he said. “And treat every patient as if they were a member of your family.”
Learn more about Dr. Mihaljevic in this video as he thanks donors for their ongoing support and investment in the success of Cleveland Clinic.
‘That Could Have Been Me’: Surgery Averts Heart Attack
“I’d give anything to have my brother back, but it really was a wakeup call for me,” says Rustom Khouri, MD. “That could have been me.”
Dr. Khouri’s younger brother and best friend, Samuel, passed away suddenly from a heart attack in December 2016. Dr. Khouri’s family has a long history of heart disease – his father, mother and now two younger brothers have died of heart disease.
The day his brother died, Dr. Khouri, a former physician turned real estate developer, wasn’t feeling well – so poorly, in fact, that he went to the emergency department. All the tests were normal except for his racing pulse, for which a beta blocker was prescribed. He attributed his quickened pulse to the emotional stress caused by the unexpected death of Sam.
His wife, Mary, insisted that he follow up with his longtime Cleveland Clinic physician, Richard Lang, MD, MPH, who recommended further testing by cardiologist Milind Desai, MD. In the past, Dr. Khouri had stress tests, echocardiograms and EKGs, all of which had been considered normal. Not this time.
“When Dr. Desai looked at my medical records, he was concerned about my very high coronary calcium score. He then looked at a scan of my arteries and saw that the arterial walls had thickened, causing the blood flow opening to narrow,” Dr. Khouri says. A cardiac catheterization was scheduled the following day.
It turned out that Dr. Khouri needed much more than a catheterization.
During the procedure, the surgeon found that Dr. Khouri’s arteries were thickened close to the bifurcation of the main artery. He needed coronary bypass surgery.
Life-Saving Technique Developed a Half-Century Ago
The coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) technique was pioneered at Cleveland Clinic by Rene Favaloro, MD, in 1967. Working with F. Mason Sones, MD, who discovered coronary angiography, Dr. Favaloro plotted a new surgical approach that redirected blood flow around the blocked artery using a vein from the patient’s leg. The procedure has saved countless lives around the world.
Today, Cleveland Clinic doctors have performed more than 100,000 CABG surgeries. Innovative approaches to cardiovascular treatment like this have earned Cleveland Clinic the No. 1 ranking in heart care by U.S. News and World Report for 23 consecutive years, an unprecedented accomplishment.
‘His Only Job was to Take Care of Me’
Just a few weeks after his brother’s funeral, Dr. Khouri’s surgery was performed by Douglas Johnston, MD. Although Dr. Khouri had been faithfully taking medications for 20 years, the need for surgical intervention wasn’t unexpected, he acknowledges. “I was obese; I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure.”
Even so, Dr. Khouri says his experience with Cleveland Clinic’s pre- and postoperative patient care exceeded his highest expectations.
“Dr. Desai and his staff have been with me every step of the process – before, during and after surgery,” he says. “I felt as if his only job was to take care of me. Dr. Johnston and his team displayed genuine concern for my well-being. They took special care to address items they knew were important to me, from a cosmetic perspective as well as functional.”
Grateful for Exceptional Care
Today, Dr. Khouri is 25 pounds lighter, exercises daily and follows a healthy diet.
“My cholesterol levels are lower than they’ve ever been,” he says. He now is back to work serving as President and CEO of Carnegie Management and Development Corporation.
Since he was discharged in January 2017, Dr. Khouri says he and his wife have given much thought to the exceptional delivery of care he received at Cleveland Clinic.
“From the cleaning staff to patient-care nursing assistants, technicians, nurses, staff physicians and key care physicians and surgeons, I always end up back at the same place, simply praising every aspect of the care I received.”
Dr. and Mrs. Khouri decided to make a $1 million gift to Cleveland Clinic to support the work of Dr. Desai and his investigations into heart disease, including proactive treatments and research to detect heart disease sooner. Their gift was made in honor of Toby Cosgrove, MD, who recently stepped down as CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic.
“Given Cleveland Clinic’s international reputation for excellence in cardiac care, I felt that this was my best option for a positive surgical outcome, and I’m eternally grateful to all those involved that my surgery was completely successful,” Dr. Khouri says. “My family and I are blessed to live in a city featuring the world’s best and most innovative healthcare system.”
How You Can Help
February is Heart Month! Make a gift today because your support of our pioneering cardiovascular research helps save lives.
Good News for Lowering Bad Cholesterol
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is called the bad cholesterol for good reason. It causes the buildup of fatty deposits within the coronary arteries, reducing or blocking the flow of blood and oxygen, which can lead to chest pain and heart attack. High levels of LDL are also likely to cause problems such as stroke, kidney failure and poor circulation.
Statins are widely prescribed in the U.S. to help lower levels of bad cholesterol, but these drugs don’t work effectively for everyone – and some people can’t tolerate them.
Recently, Cleveland Clinic researchers found that adding a newer cholesterol-lowering drug evolocumab (Repatha) to full doses of statin drugs reversed the buildup of cholesterol plaques in the coronary artery walls after 18 months of treatment.
Reaching a New Low
The study was directed by Steven Nissen, MD, Chair of the Robert and Suzanne Tomsich Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic’s Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute and Stephen Nicholls, MBBS, PhD, a professor at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute and cardiologist at Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Known as the GLAGOV Trial, the study randomly assigned 968 participants to a statin alone or the combination of a statin and evolocumab, a drug that is not a statin, but belongs to a new class of cholesterol-lowering treatments known as PCSK9 inhibitors. A PCSK9 inhibitor is an injectable medication that is self-administered by patients and works by inactivating the protein PCSK9. Blocking this protein allows more receptors to be available to remove LDL from the bloodstream, lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Evolocumab and another drug targeting PCSK9 were approved by the FDA in 2015.
An LDL measurement of less than 100 mg per deciliter (dL) of blood is desirable for most patients. In the study, the statin-only patients achieved an average LDL level of 93 mg/dL, while those receiving combination therapy had an additional 60 percent reduction, reaching 36.6 mg/dL, on average. This is the lowest level ever studied in a major trial of cholesterol-lowering drugs.
For patients who had low LDL levels when they started the study, there was an additional benefit with the combination therapy. Eighty-one percent of this group showed regression of coronary plaque. There were incremental benefits and no safety issues seen in those treated to LDL levels as low as 20 mg/dL.
Now FDA Approved
Dr. Nissen, who holds the Lewis and Patricia Dickey Chair in Cardiovascular Research, says consistent findings from a larger study were recently published showed a reduction in heart attack and stroke with evolocumab.
“Statins already are the gold standard for lowering cholesterol, but we wanted to find out if we could do better,” Dr. Nissen says. “These findings demonstrate that significant regression of coronary disease can be achieved by adding a PCSK9 inhibitor to statins to drive cholesterol to incredibly low levels never previously studied.”
How You Can Help
Your support helps make Cleveland Clinic’s life-saving research possible. Make a gift today.
Power of Every One Campaign Hits New Level
In June 2014, Cleveland Clinic kicked off its historic centennial campaign, The Power of Every One, which concludes in 2021.
We’re pleased to report that at the end of 2017, the campaign has raised $1.3 billion toward our goal of $2 billion, including $55 million for the Cosgrove Transformation Fund. This is our most ambitious philanthropic effort ever, one that will help us remain at the forefront of healthcare and allow us to build on our legacy of healing and promoting medical innovation – and as a nonprofit medical center, Cleveland Clinic is truly grateful for your generosity.
Our founders’ unwavering focus on patients, coupled with a culture of innovation, changed the way healthcare was delivered. Today, Cleveland Clinic is leading a shift from “sick care” to “well care.” We have a unique opportunity to set an example of effective, efficient healthcare for the nation and the world. But we can’t do this without you. With the decline of federal and corporate funding and the rise of healthcare delivery costs, your support is more critical than ever.
For this campaign, we have identified four strategic areas:
- Promoting Health
- Advancing Discovery
- Training Caregivers
- Transforming Care
Since 1921, Cleveland Clinic has been providing, reimagining and reshaping healthcare. Don’t wait! Please join our 100th anniversary celebration to help set the course for the next century.