Volunteering in a Heartbeat
Dr. John Beard is using his considerable medical skills to save the lives of those who need him most.
By Jackie Perrone
At 66 years of age, Dr. John Beard has found what he wants to be when he grows up: a volunteer who gives away the expertise that saves lives. “My whole life has been pointing me in this direction,” he says. “This has gone a long way toward restoring my faith in medicine as an honorable practice.”
“This” encompasses the practicing and teaching which passes along to new generations his highly technical skills in cardiology. It’s a story much appreciated in what is a new venue for him, the independent nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Safe to say, he never envisioned serving in a far-away Caribbean land, but now in his busy “retirement,” he says, “I’ve never been happier.”
The young John Beard followed the path set by his father, a West Point graduate and military engineer. As an Army officer, he lived in a variety of places, including North Dakota, Texas, North Carolina, and eventually, Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. After completing his military service, he graduated from the University of South Carolina Medical School and trained in cardiology at Vanderbilt in Tennessee. As a cardiologist, he affiliated with several partnerships in Columbia, serving for 25 years and honing his skills while technology brought about dramatic changes in medical practice.
“Electrophysiologist” is the term he uses to highlight his 21st-century focus. “The devices which have been invented for heart care are amazing and life-changing,” he says. “I have the opportunity now to train doctors in these techniques for prolonging life and health.”
John Beard retired from his Midlands cardiology practice in January of 2015. “I was beat down by new directions in the business of medicine,” he admits. “I wanted to put patient care at the top of the list. That’s exactly where I have landed, and it is totally satisfying.”
He found his niche with an organization called Heartbeat International, which is headquartered in Tampa FL but maintains heart centers around the world. Their largest facility is located in the independent nation of Trinidad and Tobago, just a few miles offshore from Venezuela. This charitable foundation works to provide free pacemakers and lifetime cardiovascular care to indigent patients; since its birth in 1984, HBI has saved more than 14,000 lives globally.
How is such charity possible? The governments of Canada, Britain and the U.S. provide support. Generous donors including Rotary Clubs pledge funds; manufacturers of cardio devices donate their product, and medical professionals such as Dr. John Beard volunteer the expertise to make the program work. Trinidad and Tobago were British-empire territories until achieving independence in 1962. Now this island nation supports a modern medical school and hospital where programs such as HBI can serve.
Last March, soon after retiring from daily practice, Dr. Beard was asked to visit the facilities in TT. One visit, and he was hooked. He now returns on a regular basis, installing the life-saving devices and teaching local cardiologists. This tiny nation offers Universal Health Care, that is, routine medical care at a public hospital, to all citizens.
The German company BIOTRONIK leads the list of companies who donate the cardio- and endovascular medical devices. Most of us have heard of pacemakers and defibrillators. In medicine as elsewhere, technology is outrunning us. Now Dr. Beard’s specialty utilizes more than 60 devices for saving lives in cardiology. “In this country, there is one electrophysiologist for one million people,” says Dr. Beard. “I am training cardiologists to install the devices and furnish the follow-up care which is essential to success. HBI has 14 heart centers around the world, and the one in TT is their finest, a model for all others.”
The medical community in TT faces some critical needs. The number of cath labs is limited; more are needed. A newly-elected Minister of Health has promised to seek support.
Dr. Beard describes Trinidad and Tobago as a multicultural community, with many races and religions living together harmoniously. “I am an evangelical Christian,” he says. “I enjoy talking to my patients about their lives and their beliefs.”
Dr. Beard now divides his time between Columbia and Greenville as well as the monthly trips to TT. He serves two days a week at the free medical clinic in Columbia, and works with an “Echo-Tech” course at Providence Hospital that trains echocardiographers. Retirement, indeed. More like a continuing fulfillment of his life’s calling.
Dr. John T. Beard
Bachelor of Science, U.S.Military Academy, West Point NY
M.D., University of South Carolina School of Medicine
Cardiology, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville TN
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