By Kathy Day
From the moment you meet Dr. John Rogers, you are taken by his good heart. And it’s not just because he’s a cardiologist.
Just look around his office at Scripps Green Hospital and you’ll see Santa’s toy bag by his chair and a Santa suit hanging on his door so he’s ready when called on to be the hospital’s resident Jolly Old Soul. Or take a gander at his collection of Bugs Bunny animation cells – medicine-related, of course.
Better yet, listen to the longtime Carmel Valley resident talk about his patients, his family and the foundation that offers free cardiac screening for teens and you want to stick around and hear more. The son of a police officer and a nurse who grew up in south Orange County, he said he knew as a child that he wanted to be a doctor.
“I asked for doctor’s kits every year and I loved helping people,” he said, noting that at first he wanted to be a pediatrician. But that changed in medical school when he had to treat abused children. “I couldn’t find the compassion for parents who beat their children.”
Instead, he fell in love with pediatric cardiology and, with a father-in-law who was a cardiologist, he shifted gears and finished with a specialty in cardiac surgery.
When he went to college, he had a lot of fun before realizing “you can’t have all the fun you want,” he said with a wry grin. After getting a bachelor’s degree in biology at Point Loma College and a master’s in science in physiology at San Diego State, he headed off to University of Health Sciences/The Chicago Medical School where he earned his medical degree in 1990.
He returned to San Diego to do an internship and residency at Scripps Clinic/Green Hospital, where he stayed until 1996 before moving to Kentucky to practice for a few years. He returned to Scripps in 1999 to become director of the Cardiac Pacing and Tachyarrhythmia Device Therapy group.
He is especially interested in treating people with heart rhythm problems, trying to find out why they pass out or get dizzy, and identifying problems before they become life threatening. He’s become known throughout the country for the work he does and is often called to consult with companies developing new ways to assist heart patients. He’s published a number of peer-reviewed articles and has been a principal investigator and co-investigator on a number of device studies.
“I’ve been doing this long enough and have relationships with people who make devices that now they hear what I say,” he said. “Companies will listen to opinion leaders.”
As he spoke, he held up a small device about a third the size of an AAA battery – the world’s smallest implantable cardiac monitoring device. It enables wireless remote monitoring through the Carelink Network so that if the patient has any type of cardiac irregularity the doctor will receive an alert.
In February, Rogers was the first physician to implant Medtronic’s LINQ ICM into a 71-year-old San Diegan who had a history of heart palpitations and a previous heart valve replacement.
In the press release announcing the implant, Rogers said the man had a local anesthetic before the LINQ ICM was inserted through a 1 centimeter incision on his chest. “The entire process took about 10 minutes and he was able to go home immediately after.”
Now, with the advent of cell phones that can receive the information, companies are even including phones with the device packages.
“Technology allows us to diagnose more accurately and more quickly to get on to treating our patients faster and more directly,” he said.
Ask him what he’s passionate about beyond being in the clinical setting and he’ll take you into the world of the Eric Paredes Save a Life Foundation (www.EPSavealife.org), a nonprofit that screens teens for cardiac issues. He helped establish the organization when a Scripps Green nurse’s son, Eric, died from sudden cardiac arrest – an abnormality in the heart’s electrical system that can happen without symptoms or warning signs. After Eric’s death in 2009, he spoke to his mother Rhina “who had no answers about how to go on,” he recalled.
From that sprang the foundation, which holds free EKG screenings for youth throughout the year and ultimately wants to equip all schools with automated external defibrillators (AED) and provide CPR/AED training to staff and students. To date, Rogers said, they have identified about 100 teens with the potentially life-threatening condition.
They get the word out through schools, with some coaches making the test mandatory and some teachers offering extra credit to students who complete it. They also partnered with KUSI’s Prep Pigskin Report and encourage people to tell others.
“If 10 friends tell 10 friends, we can spread the word more easily,” Rogers said. “The foundation has been a calling for me. It is a lot of work and a lot of fun. While it is unfortunate that we have to tell parents their children may have a problem, it is rewarding because we can also tell them this can be fixed.”
While his work might seem to get in the way of his ability to find personal time, Rogers puts his priorities in this order: family, God and country. His wife, Susan DeCristofaro Rogers, is department chair, associate professor and academic director of the Point Loma Nazarene University Early Childhood Learning Center. They have been married for 31 years and have a son and daughter, both college graduates.
Rogers smiled, adding they also have a 14-year-old pug and three cats – well, almost three. The newest family member, an Abyssinian kitten, has yet to move in.
A longtime Scout leader, he said one of his favorite things is teaching children’s baptism classes with Susan at their church. He also gets a kick out of reading comic books – the Hulk is his favorite, which one might figure out from the fact that he has a life-size caricature of the superhero standing in the corner of his office.
“I didn’t like to read when I was younger,” he said. In an effort to get him to read the Classics, his father bought him a set of the Classics Illustrated in comic book form and he was hooked. “I still read comics to unwind.”
He also enjoys scuba diving in La Jolla Cove, Coronado, Maui and Belize, or hiking in the rainforests of Belize and in Yosemite.
“I wake up excited every day,” Rogers said. “I get to do surgery, see patients in my office and develop long-term relationships with them. I also get to run downstairs and help save lives. It’s the best of all worlds.”
“Save Your Teen in 2014” upcoming screenings: •April 27 – Scripps Ranch High School; •June 1 – Granite Hills High School; •July 26 – The Rock Academy/Church, Point Loma; •Sept. 28 – La Jolla; •Nov. 2 – Spring Valley. Registration required at EPSavealife.org
John David Rogers, MD FACC
Cardiologist at Scripps Clinic;
Director, Cardiac Pacing and Tachyarrhythmia Device Therapy;
Medical Director, Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation;
Medical Director, Advocates For Injured Athletes;
President, San Diego Chapter, Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association
Wife: Susan DeCristofaro Rogers (married almost 31 years);
Daughter: Brittany Joy Samis (Son-in-law Jake Samis); Son:
All sports, photography, movies, bird watching, hiking, reading, scuba diving
Comic books/graphic novels, fiction, historical/biography
Twister, Star Wars (all of them), Avengers (actually all of the comic book-related movies), World War Z
Yosemite, Hawaii, Belize
Always treat others the way you want to be treated. God created each of us for a purpose. I believe that purpose is to do our best to make a difference (for the better) in the lives of others.” Rogers is a member of the San Diego First Church of the Nazarene.