Del Mar cardiologist, who fled persecution as a boy in Romania, helps North County residents lead heart-healthy lives

Dr. Franklin Zalman
Dr. Franklin Zalman

By Arthur Lightbourn

Contributor

“Know your numbers,” Dr. Franklin Zalman strongly recommends.

“And the numbers everyone should know are basically your blood pressure, your cholesterol and your fasting blood sugar.”

Why?

Because those numbers, together with your family’s health history, are indicators of whether you may be a candidate for a heart attack.

And Zalman should know.

He has been detecting, treating and preventing cardiac and vascular diseases for almost three decades.

He’s a practicing cardiologist and, since 2002, the founding president and medical director of the non-profit Cardiovascular Disease Foundation in Carlsbad.

We interviewed the 56-year-old physician in his office in Del Mar.

Incidentally, the ideal numbers for your blood pressure are 110 to 130 over 70 to 80; total cholesterol less than 200, better yet, less than 180, with the good cholesterol (HDL) greater than 45 and the bad cholesterol (LDL) lower than 120; and your fasting blood sugar, under 100.

The numbers are usually obtained in your annual physical exam and are undoubtedly on a chart somewhere.

“But we believe the patient himself or herself should know them so then they are more likely able to make wise choices,” Zalman said. “So that when a little snack is being offered or that dessert or maybe even that extra glass of orange juice, when they know their blood sugar is borderline, maybe they don’t need those sugar calories.

“And if someone has already had a heart attack, then we need to be even stricter with those numbers … And if they can’t reach those numbers with nutrition and exercise, then we have to use medication to do so.”

Zalman was born in Yassy, Romania, a town with a dark, centuries-old history of anti-Semitism and pogroms. Zalman was 9 when he and his parents fled Jewish persecution in Communist-controlled Romania and immigrated to the United States via Italy in 1964.

“We learned our English in Italy,” he recalled.

The family lived initially in St. Paul, Minn., and moved to Los Angeles in 1966.

Zalman’s father worked in a warehouse filling orders, then “worked for a gentleman delivering milk, eggs and butter to restaurants and homes,” and then eventually opened his own business.

Zalman loved growing up in LA, he said. “It was sunny, the beach, bicycles and lots of cousins.”

In junior high, Zalman said he thought he might eventually become an architect, but while attending Fairfax High, a 9th grade biology teacher and a 10th grade chemistry teacher sparked his interest in science.

At UCLA in 1976, he earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry, followed by a master’s degree in physiology and his M.D. from the University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, in 1979 and 1981 respectively.

He did his internal medicine internship, residency and a cardiology fellowship at UCLA’s Department of Medicine from 1981 to 1986; and a coronary angioplasty fellowship at Baptist Medical Center, Oklahoma City in 1987.

What attracted him to cardiology?

He had considered specializing in hematology/oncology, but, at that time, he recalled “the cocktails were really hard on the patients and it didn’t seem we were making that much progress clinically;” whereas in cardiology, physicians could measure heart function and come up with treatments to affect the outcome and make heart patients better.

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