Father and son team perform surgeries, teach nation at York Hospital

Margarita Cambest

It started in a not-so-starkly white but still fluorescent laboratory.

Two Emory-trained cardiologists at WellSpan York Hospital took turns performing surgical procedures in front of a global audience of more than 12,000 medical professionals attending the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics conference this past fall in Washington, D.C.

From York, WellSpan cardiologists Dr. Jay Nicholson, 73, and Dr. William Nicholson, 44, who are father and son, shared alternative techniques used to treat complex heart cases. From the other side of the video screen, health care workers hoped to figure out how to incorporate the procedure — done regularly at York Hospital — in their facilities all over the world.

“Especially for a small town, it’s a huge honor that we get to be recognized,” the junior Nicholson said.

The equipment is shiny new, bigger than it looks in the movies. Video screens surround the operating table, on which patients with completely blocked arteries have a 90 percent chance of success in York County compared with 60 percent nationally. The procedure helps repair the complete blockage of the artery that supplies blood to the heart.

“A full one-fifth of the people who come through the lab are completely blocked,” William Nicholson explained. “Some have already had bypasses, and for others they may not be necessary.”

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Patients, he said, travel to WellSpan to beat the odds, with a full 40 percent traveling from outside Pennsylvania.The surgeries take hours of their time, but they’re a sort of a pet project of the team and fully supported by the hospital’s administration.

Only 10 sites nationally share WellSpan’s success rate, said the junior Nicholson. A busy facility, he said, might do 20 to 25 procedures a year. York Hospital performs 200. In June, the hospital announced that it was the first Pennsylvania hospital to achieve the highest level of chest-pain accreditation from the Society of Cardiovascular Patient Care.

However, the Nicholsons are anything but boastful. They make a point to highlight the teamwork that helps the department succeed. Three other physicians help perform the procedures — Dr. James Harvey, Dr. Thomas Schryver and Dr. Paul Tolerico, all of WellSpan’s cardiology department. Two nurses and two techs provide support during the procedures.

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After more than 40 years in the department, Jay Nicholson said his biggest desire — to leave behind a first-rate center to treat the heart complications of Yorkers — has been fulfilled, and though he’s not going anywhere, his son will make sure the legacy keeps going. The doctors share a last name but also what they say is a highlight of their professional careers — working together.

Dr. Jay Nicholson is half of a father-son cardiovascular surgery team at WellSpan York Hospital, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

“The high point of my career is having him here,” Jay Nicholson said.  “I’ve done a lot of great things, but that’s the high point of every day.”