Turlock's Emanuel Medical Center gets to heart of matter

TURLOCK — Emanuel Medical Center has not been equipped for treating heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

That is expected to change in the spring when the 209-bed hospital launches a cardiac services program.

The nonprofit hospital will start with a catheterization lab, to open in late March or April, and then seek certification to perform procedures for treating heart disease. An area inside the hospital on Delbon Avenue is being remodeled for the new center.

"Our emergency department is seeing about 60,000 visits a year, and cardiac complaints are a huge portion of that patient volume," said John Sigsbury, the hospital's chief executive officer. "We believe the community here should have an active interventional cardiac service."

Emanuel is the only hospital serving Turlock and its 70,000 residents. People who suffer a heart attack are stabilized at Emanuel and transferred to hospitals in Modesto. Cardiologists based in Turlock take their patients to Modesto hospitals for elective procedures.

Emanuel's cath lab will enable doctors to handle some emergency cases and take video images of the heart to identify blockages in arteries.

Dr. Harold Tabaie, the medical director of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery for Emanuel, said patients will be treated with angioplasty and stenting procedures. But he also talked of equipping an operating room at Emanuel for more invasive procedures such as coronary artery bypasses, heart valve operations and endoscopic lung surgeries.

"It will happen when we are absolutely sure we can provide the same or better quality of service that is available anywhere else," Sigsbury said. "We are going to make sure everything is perfect before we extend that to the community."

Tabaie was president of Bradenton Cardiac Surgeons in Florida before coming to Turlock in September to start a practice in the Emanuel Medical Plaza on East Tuolumne Road.

He previously started two open-heart surgery programs, one in Bradenton in 1991 and the other in Philadelphia in 1988.

During a 25-year career, Tabaie has done pioneering work in robotic surgery, performing in 1999 the first closed-chest robotically assisted coronary artery bypass operation. He also was a co-author of a feasibility study on robotic-assisted heart surgery for the Food and Drug Administration. Emanuel has no plans to use robotics at its center.

Along with Tabaie, physicians with Turlock Heart and Vascular Institute and Valley Heart Associates of Modesto will be treating heart patients at Emanuel. The hospital is positioned to serve patients from Turlock, Merced and other communities in northern Merced County.

Emanuel expects to serve 75 to 120 heart patients the first year.

"It will take a little time for people to realize there is a program here and before doctors feel confident to send their patients to the center," Tabaie said. "I hope we can start a program that provides excellent care for patients in the region."

Tabaie earned a doctorate in cardiovascular and pulmonary physiology from the University of California at Davis, and his advanced training includes a fellowship in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

The Sacramento native said he returned to Northern California to be close to family and for the opportunity to start a surgery program.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at or 578-2321.