A Giant in the Matters of the Heart
Olakunle Akinboboye, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.
Founder, medical director,
Laurelton Heart Specialists P.C., Laurelton, N.Y.,
Associate professor of medicine,
State University of New York at Stony Brook,
Director, nuclear cardiology and cardiac MRI and associate Director, Division of Cardiology
New York Hospital Queens, Flushing , N.Y.
If home is where the heart is, then Olakunle Akinboboye, M.D., has become a welcome and warm houseguest to many cardiac-care patients in the greater New York area.
Renowned as one of the top cardiologists in the country, Dr. Akinboboye serves as medical director for Laurelton Heart Specialists P.C., a private practice he opened in Laurelton, Queens, in 2003. It has since blossomed into a diverse imaging and treatment facility offering medical services in the areas of heart disease, kidney disease, blood pressure and diabetes.
“We’re going after the key problems affecting the minority community,” says Dr. Akinboboye. His staff has grown to include a nephrologist (for kidneys) and a rheumatologist (for joints).
Dr. Akinboboye also is an associate professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and director of nuclear cardiology and cardiac MRI, as well as associate director of the Division of Cardiology at the New York Hospital of Queens in Flushing, N.Y., (a hospital he describes as one of the best equipped heart hospitals in the New York Metro area). He is considered one of the foremost experts on nuclear cardiology, a cutting-edge approach to diagnosing the conditions of the heart and major blood vessels, using radioactive material that provides state-of-the-art images of internal organs and structures without invasive maneuvers or surgery. Two key procedures are nuclear stress testing, in which a patient’s heart is monitored during exercise on a treadmill, and a nuclear scan, in which a radioactive isotope or tracer is injected into the blood to produce images of the heart and major arteries using a gamma camera.
Dr. Akinboboye’s practice also offers cardiac consultation, wellness instruction, nuclear stress testing, access to cardiac MRI and cardiac CT, echocardiology and blood-pressure monitoring.
Born in Nigeria, Dr. Akinboboye was drawn to medicine at an early age. His father wanted to become a physician but could not because of financial reasons. His uncle trained in the United Kingdom on a scholarship, became an obstetrician and practiced in Britain and Nigeria for many years.
Dr. Akinboboye got his greatest inspiration to become a doctor from his experiences on the other side of a hospital bed as a child. He credits his battles with polio and paralysis during the first 12 years of his life with teaching him the meaning of suffering. “It gives me a different perspective,” he says. “I once talked to a sickle-cell patient and she told me ‘I don’t think you understand what I’m going through.’ I said, ‘I think I do.’”
He studied at the University of Ibadan College of Medicine in his home country before moving to the United States, where he completed his residency in internal medicine and cardiology at the Nassau Medical Center and the State University of New York. He also studied imaging technology, such as cardiac MRI and techniques associated with nuclear cardiology, for which he is now nationally renown. He later moved to Columbia University, where he gained additional training and became an assistant clinical professor of medicine. He expanded his professional expertise at Columbia by earning master’s degrees in business administration and in public health at Columbia Business School and Columbia School of Public Health, respectively. He is board certified in internal medicine, cardiology, hypertension and nuclear cardiology.
He served as the director of nuclear cardiology at St. Francis Hospital before deciding to open a practice that emphasizes his philosophy of personalized care and that values creating the most accurate picture of a patient’s condition before outlining treatment options.
Dr. Akinboboye says he favors noninvasive procedures and he himself does not perform complex heart procedures like angioplasties and bypasses. He feels vindicated by recent research stating that noninvasive procedures can be just as effective for certain heart patients as riskier procedures. He also uses thorough questioning to record a quality medical history of each patient, a skill he says he developed in Nigeria, where many of the current technological advances in, cardiology were not readily available.
“Some doctors can develop tunnel vision. They have got to be selective. You can’t just give [invasive remedies] to every Tom, Dick and Harry,” he says. In being selective, he tries to exercise the best treatment options for each patient, based on their individual need. Those who require bypasses, stents and other heart operations are encouraged to get them while others with less serious conditions or those in need of post surgery care are directed towards medicine and/or lifestyle changes.
Encouraging patients to turn the corner on work or diet habits is often a major challenge for heart specialists. Dr. Akinboboye recalls telling one patient to walk around the shopping mall in steady, uninterrupted strides each day to get the recommended 30 minutes of cardiovascular care each day.
The Rev. John Boyd, who presides over the Greater Bethel Ministry Inc. in Jamaica, N.Y., realized that he had to make lifestyle changes after a series of health crises that led him to the care of Dr. Akinboboye. He recalls waking up one January morning in 2000 without the ability to speak. There was no prior pain or warning signs that he could detect, he says. It turned out to be a stroke. After a few months of rehabilitation and treatment he regained his strength and returned to a full schedule of preaching every Sunday and holding a full roster of meetings and services during the week.
Two years later, Boyd was in the middle of delivering a sermon when he collapsed. He was rushed to St. Francis Hospital, where, what was originally thought to be a seizure proved to be a heart attack. His main artery was 95 percent blocked. Dr. Akinboboye, who was the director of nuclear cardiology, diagnosed his condition and recommended cardiac bypass surgery.
“He’s very compassionate and very sincere,” says the 82-year-old Boyd. “I’ve told him a million and one times that he is a gift from God.” Boyd now makes twice-weekly visits to a physical fitness center, eats less fatty foods and more fruits and vegetables. Although he still preaches every Sunday, he has cut back on some of his weekly activities. The greatest care he received from Dr. Akinboboye, he says, was “mental healing” that gave him the confidence to go forward after the two major health scares.
Una Ingram, a longtime medical professional and a patient of Dr. Akinboboye, says the doctor is a consummate professional, from his expertise in the latest technology to his style of dress. “When you go to a doctor and he looks sloppy that makes me wonder if he’s sloppy on everything else. Dr. Akinboboye is the most professional,” she says.
Throughout her long career as a nurse, Ingram has seen patients and doctors of many different cultures. It is important, she emphasizes, that African-American patients, particularly those of Caribbean descent who are heavily represented in the Queens neighborhood of Dr. Akinboboye’s practice, to know there is a high-ranking doctor of color nearby.
Evelyn Edwards, who also has a background in nursing, was referred to Dr. Akinoboye by an unexpected source after she had just received what she considered substandard care for a heart illness. “I was very dissatisfied,” says Edwards. “I was coming home and told the cab driver I needed a cardiologist, and he knew Dr. Akinboboye.”
She received a full battery of physical exams at Laurelton Heart Specialists. She admits the process was painful at times, but Dr. Akinboboye’s bedside manner helped her through it. “He said I understand you’re scared right now, but I’ll be right here. He was the consummate humanitarian and a true professional,” Edwards says.
Teacher and mentor
Dr. Akinboboye keeps abreast of the latest techniques and best practices in cardiac care and nuclear diagnosis. He serves on a panel that has been evaluating new studies on the use of stem cells to regenerate tissue. His hope is that that research will lead to a treatment that could replenish damaged areas of the heart. The top issue for cardiologists, he says, is the fact that heart disease is still a leading cause of death among Americans.
Dr. Akinboboye is a member of the Association of Black Cardiologists and the Ibadan College of Medicine Alumni Association; he has published more than 140 scientific articles and a book chapter on hypertension, diabetes and heart imaging. Through his affiliations, he promotes heart health among African-Americans. The lack of mentors is one of the biggest challenges for Black doctors, he says. It is one that he attempts to remedy through his membership in the ABC.
“He gave me good advice on how to write grants, prepare presentations and on nuclear cardiology in general,” says Ralph Dim, M.D., who met Dr. Akinboboye during his final year of training at Columbia University in 2003. The pair received an award from the American Society of Nuclear Cardiologists for their joint research.
Like Dr. Akinboboye, Dim, who is chief fellow in cardiology training at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., specializes in cardiovascular disease with a focus on imaging. “He’s a trailblazer,” he says of Dr. Akinboboye. “He has direct means of encouraging you. He constantly reminds you of what is important and helps you get to where you want to go.”
Dim also is a native of Nigeria and has assisted in Dr. Akinboboye’s efforts to improve medical care in the African nation. He served as a training specialist in a cardiac life-support center that was established with help from Dr. Akinboboye, one of the only American Medical Association-approved CPR clinics in the country.
Through his alma mater, Dr. Akinboboye is on the Board of the Nigerian Higher Education Fund, which raises money to improve education in the country.
By Maurice Boyer