Surgeon Spotlight: Dr. Duc Thinh Pham

Northwestern Medicine, Chicago, Illinois

As a cardiac surgeon with a focus on heart valve disease, Duc Thinh Pham, MD, relishes the collaborative style of his team at Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital — which affords him the opportunity to work on a wide variety of clinical cases.

"We have some of the world’s leading experts on a vast spectrum of diseases and procedures, which means we are able to work together to create the most optimal protocols for patients with very complex illnesses,” says Pham.  "I really enjoy working with my colleagues in both cardiac surgery and interventional cardiology on open, minimally invasive, and percutaneous heart valve interventions, because it means we offer a breadth of innovative and individualized therapies for our patients.” 




A return to Northwestern Medicine

Pham is the surgical director for the Center of Heart Failure at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (he is also an associate professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine) and is no stranger to Northwestern in general.

After graduating from and completing his general residency at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Pham completed his cardiothoracic surgery residency and an advanced fellowship in heart failure and valvular surgery in the Cardiovascular Surgery Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

He moved to Boston in 2006 to lead the Heart Transplant Program at Tufts Medical Center but returned to Chicago in 2015 to take on the new role at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. His clinical specialties include all aspects of adult cardiac surgery, including coronary bypass surgery, valvular heart repair/replacement, transcatheter aortic valve replacement, aortic surgery, ventricular reconstruction, heart transplantation and ventricular assist device implantations. He has operated on more than 2,000 patients.



Passion for health and wellness

As a child, Pham and his family moved to North America after the Vietnam War. He says his family has always held wellness in high regard: “We survived the war, and that experience changed me forever. I realized that beyond survival, one of the most basic human needs is medicine for good health and wellness. Pursuing medicine and helping people achieve good health and wellness is an area in which I feel I help others the most,” he explains. 

During his time as a medical student and surgical resident, Pham was exposed to many pathologies and organ systems. But the heart captivated his attention.

"I consulted on a case of a woman who came in with triple valve endocarditis. She was nearly dying; we rushed her to surgery that evening, and the following day, she was sitting up in a chair, talking to her family again,” Pham recalls. “That case impressed upon me what an immediate impact we as cardiac surgeons can have on a patient’s life—and quality of life.”



Developing percutaneous treatment technologies

Because untreated or poorly treated heart valve disease can quickly lead to heart failure; it’s essential to explore treatment methods that stop disease in its earliest stages, says Pham.

Minimally invasive, percutaneous heart valve interventions offer some patients an alternative to open-heart surgery.  Percutaneous heart valve interventions are performed while the patient's heart is still beating, eliminating the need for a "bypass" machine and its associated risks.

Right now, he says, the evolution of percutaneous options for treating heart valve disease is an area of great interest and need for certain patient populations: “Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) has been around for about 10 years or so. Now we’re seeing next generation TAVR devices that are smaller, less invasive and cause fewer complications—it’s an exciting time to be at the forefront of this technology, and to be advancing this field.”



Building on the expertise gained from TAVR, Northwestern Memorial Hospital is now offering the following minimally invasive, percutaneous heart valve treatment options:


Aortic Valve

  • Commercially Available: TAVR and Aortic Valve in Valve Replacement. Aortic valve in valve replacement is a minimally invasive TAVR procedure for patients who have had previous open-heart valve surgery to replace the aortic valve with a bioprosthetic/tissue valve and the tissue valve is now failing. Instead of the failing aortic tissue valve being replaced during another open-heart valve surgery, the failing aortic tissue valve is replaced by placing a TAVR valve inside the failing aortic tissue valve. 
  • Clinical Trials:
    PARTNER 3, for select patients at low risk for surgical aortic valve replacement
    PARTNER 3 Aortic Valve in Valve, for patients with a failing aortic bioprosthetic valve
    EARLY TAVR, for patients with asymptomatic severe aortic stenosis 

Mitral Valve

  • Commercially Available: MitraClip and Mitral Valve in Valve Replacement. MitraClip is a minimally invasive treatment option for patients with mitral regurgitation who are too high risk for open heart surgery. Mitral valve in valve replacement is the same as aortic valve in valve replacement, except the procedure is performed on the mitral valve. 
  • Clinical Trials:
    CardiAQ, for select patients needing mitral valve replacement
    COAPT, for select patients with mitral valve regurgitation
    Intrepid, for select patients with mitral valve regurgitation
    Apollo, for select patients with mitral valve regurgitation
    ACTIVE, for select patients with mitral valve regurgitation 


“Some of these technologies are still investigational, but that’s the wonderful thing about Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital: Because we are national leaders in heart valve disease treatment options, we work very closely with industry to develop new technologies,” says Pham. “From surgeons to cardiologists to echocardiographers, we offer a breadth of heart valve disease expertise all in one institution, which is very attractive to our patients.”


A focus on family

Pham says his passion for cardiac care is driven by this desire to help patients enjoy time with their families and friends and to live their most happy, productive lives.

"When I’m not doing what I do for a living, I’m pursuing activities that I want my patients to be able to enjoy, things like relaxing and spending time with family and friends, attending sporting events, and exploring the city,” he says.

Pham’s wife, Mi, is an architect; they’ve known each other for close to 25 years. Their 10-year-old daughter Josephine was born at Prentice Women’s Hospital at Northwestern Memorial, and they have six-year-old twins, Ethan and Madeleine. The family is passionate about enjoying all that Chicago has to offer—including winter sports like hockey, figure skating, and snowboarding.

"For me, it’s all about family,” says Pham, “and helping people get the most out of life.”

At Northwestern Memorial Hospital, we focus on cutting-edge technologies and research, because we want to provide our patients with the best care possible,” says Pham. “Our patients’ wellbeing and that of their families is foremost in our mind, whether it means providing them with the best standard, tried-and-true therapies for their valvular heart diseases, or cutting-edge investigational approaches. No matter what, we’re here to help patients achieve wellness and live full lives.”