A Woman with Heart
Meet the First Female Heart Surgeon in the Midlands
By Jennifer Wilson
Lexington Medical Center is pleased to announce that Dr. Deyanira “Dee” Prastein has joined the hospital’s network of care as a heart surgeon. She joins Dr. Jeffrey Travis at Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, to provide comprehensive cardiovascular care that meets the needs of our community. She is the first female heart surgeon in the Midlands.
Dr. Prastein has world-class training in cardiothoracic surgery, studying inside some of the most prestigious heart programs in the world. Her intensive work includes experience with the most state-of-the-art procedures available today
Prior to joining Lexington Medical Center, Dr. Prastein was the lead cardiothoracic surgeon at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham, N.C. A graduate of the Medical College of Virginia, Dr. Prastein completed a general surgery residency at the University of Maryland and cardiothoracic surgery training at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. During her residency, she participated in extensive research on heart failure. She then worked at Papworth Hospital in England, a facility famous for being one of the first in Europe to perform heart transplants.
Dr. Prastein compares open heart surgery to an orchestra playing music.
“All of the players in the operating room have different roles and everything has to come together,” she said. “It’s paced so that things happen at the right time and tempo. Everyone knows the steps and what time to do certain things, and the timing matters.”
Dr. Prastein decided that she wanted to be a heart surgeon while in medical school.
“I thought that cardiothoracic surgery was the most amazing thing you could do as a surgeon and doctor,” she said. “Our brain makes us human and the person you are, but none of that matters if you don’t have a working heart.”
Lexington Medical Center’s heart program is affiliated with Duke Medicine. Dr. Prastein learned about the hospital while working there. And she was impressed.
“Lexington Medical Center is very passionate about and dedicated to making its heart program succeed.”
She also liked that Lexington Medical Center has made efforts to make sure they have the best cardiologists and surgeons available, and supporting staff to provide top-notch care.
“I love what Lexington Medical Center has created. My goal is to make the hospital’s heart program grow and thrive. There’s a lot of goodwill and passion for treating patients with heart disease, and I want to make sure I’m part of that success.”
She understands that heart surgery is a scary proposition for patients and their families. So, she works to put them at ease.
“Right before surgery, I talk to my patients, hold their hand, look into their eyes and tell them, ‘I’m going to take good care of you.’”
She knows that heart surgery will improve their quality of life and help them to live longer.
Working as a doctor has been a dream of Dr. Prastein since childhood. She was born in Nicaragua and lived there until she was 10, when war led her family to move.
“When we lived in Nicaragua and the war started, I wanted to help people,” she said. “In my eyes, there were only two people you could run to for help – priests and doctors. Obviously, I couldn’t be a priest, so I wanted to be a doctor.”
Dr. Prastein settled in Fairfax, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., with her parents and brothers. Her mother and father, a civil engineer, sent her to college at George Mason University, where she graduated with a degree in chemistry
There, she met her husband, Jonathan. They’ve been married for nearly 20 years and have a son named Jascha, who will be two years old in March. In her spare time, Dr. Prastein enjoys spending time with Jonathan and Jascha, and running. She has completed five marathons.
“I am proof that you can do anything with hard work. I am truly living the American dream.”
Ask the Doctor
Women and Heart Disease With Dr. Deyanira “Dee” Prastein
What differences have you noticed between men and women with heart disease?
Women tend to delay things, living with heart disease longer and presenting later. We see women who go about their routine chores while having chest pain or chest discomfort, ignoring or dismissing it.Sometimes they live with symptoms until they become so tired that they physically can’t do anything. It’s only then that they see a doctor.
What do women tell you about why they didn’t see a doctor sooner?
They seem to be focused on everyone except them. They put their families first. We see wives encouraging their husbands to see a doctor, but women often live with symptoms until they can no longer hide them.
How can heart surgery be different for men and women?
Women do really well with heart surgery because they seem to tolerate pain better than men. Also, older patients often tolerate pain better than younger ones.
How does smoking affect our hearts?
Nicotine causes hardening of the blood vessels, making them more stiff and narrow. That hardening of the arteries makes blockages more apparent sooner. You could say nicotine is the opposite of nitroglycerin, which allows blood vessels to become bigger.
What about diabetes?
With diabetes, high levels of sugar in your bloodstream allow the buildup of plaque in every blood vessel in your body, including the arteries in your heart.
What message do you have for women about heart disease?
I want women to know that it’s not normal to have no energy or to have chest discomfort such as pain or burning. If you do, see your doctor. Women who smoke, have a family history of heart disease or have diabetes should be especially careful. Don’t ignore symptoms. We can treat them and prevent a major heart attack.