The Heart of a Friar: Northern Light Cardiovascular Care

As the sun rises over the Franciscan Friars’ monastery on Orcutt Mountain on a warm summer morning, Brother Donald Paul is already heading into a small clapboard outbuilding that houses the friar’s microbrewery. He’s carrying a bag of barley malt on his shoulder and is dressed in a brown robe and sandals. Between his pastoral duties, his beer brewing operation, and the friar’s waterfront restaurant in Bucksport, this 61-year-old friar is always on the go. A typical days starts with morning prayers at 6:00 am,  followed by hours baking breads, making soups, and preparing special items for the restaurant.  He’s at the restaurant until 7:00pm, and wraps up with evening prayers at 9:00pm.

Dr. Pantino said we’ll take good care of you, and he did take excellent care of me. - Brother Donald Paul

Then, about a year ago, he started slowing down, “It was progressive. I’d come home from work and have swelling in my ankles or my hands were sore, and I’d write it off to the fact I’d been on my feet all day, or that I’ve been a baker for 40 years,” explains Brother Don.  Then, one weekend last winter, he developed flu-like symptoms. Fellow friar, Brother Kenneth Leo, took him to the emergency department at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. Much to his surprise, Brother Don learned he’d had a heart attack. Following emergency room treatment, he met the Northern Light Cardiovascular Care team, including cardiologist, Matthew McKay, MD.

“Dr. McKay came in with a sketch of my heart covered with pencil marks, and he said, ‘Do you see those pencil marks? They represent blockages in your arteries,’ And all four were blocked,” recalls Brother Don. He needed quadruple bypass surgery.

Next, Brother Don met David Pantino, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon. “In walks this young man who looks like Tom Brady’s younger brother, and I said, ‘You’re not my surgeon!’” recalls Brother Don, “I was taken aback by his youthful appearance, but that probably says more about my age than his. And he said, ‘We’ll take good care of you,’ and he did take excellent care of me.”

As a cardiothoracic surgeon who’s performed hundreds of surgeries, Dr. Pantino, is like the ‘Tom Brady’ or quarterback of the surgery team, but he points out that many people play a role in caring for the patient.“It’s a multidisciplinary team that involves our cardiology colleagues and surgery team, as well as the emergency room and other physicians involved in his care,” explains Dr. Pantino.

Northern Light Cardiovascular Care’s team approach naturally evolved as technology paved the way for newer, less invasive forms of cardiac surgery. Now instead of open-heart surgery, some patients could be candidates for minimally invasive surgeries involving catheter-based technology.

Cardiologist Matthew McKay, MD, part of the Northern light Cardiovascular Care team.

“The technology drove cooperation between cardiologists and heart surgeons to participate in shared decision making and have face-to-face time together with patients to help decide if they should be treated with open heart procedures or minimally invasive techniques,” says Dr. McKay.

The medical center acts as the hub of Northern Light Cardiovascular Care. Its physicians and surgeons have trained at the leading cardiac centers in the world and perform more than 220,000 cardiac procedures and tests each year.  Northern Light Health’s other acute care hospitals provide this same high standard of care for less intensive cardiology and support the smaller critical access hospitals in their region. Patients requiring heart surgery can seamlessly transition to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center and then return to their local hospitals for follow-up care.

Brother Don is grateful for his care. One week after open-heart surgery, he was starting to walk. After three weeks, he was exercising on his treadmill. And after eight weeks, he was back at the restaurant.  He also hopes to start competing in sprint triathlons again, a hobby he started when he turned 55. “When it comes to recovery, it’s all about attitude. I got up every morning; I showered, I got dressed. I wanted to move; I didn’t want to lie around in my bathrobe. So, I think it really is an attitude.”

Dr. Pantino eventually made a trip down to the Friar’s Taphouse restaurant to visit Brother Don and have a meal. Dr. Pantino shares, “It’s gratifying. It’s good to see Brother Don get back to doing what he loves doing.”

As a cardiothoracic surgeon who’s performed hundreds of surgeries, Dr. David Pantino, is like the quarterback of the surgery team, but he points out that many people play a role in caring for the patient. “It’s a multidisciplinary team that involves our cardiology colleagues and surgery team, as well as the emergency room and other physicians involved in his care,” explains Dr. Pantino.

For more information visit https://northernlighthealth.org/Services/Cardiovascular-Care