As a vascular surgeon, “We treat everything from A to V — arteries to veins,” says Dr. Kathleen Ozsvath, who serves as director of vascular services at Samaritan and St. Mary’s hospitals in Troy and is a partner at Albany Vascular Group.
“We take care of the aorta, which feeds all the blood vessels in the body, treating things like aneurysm disease (dilated blood vessel walls), and what’s called occlusive disease — which causes people to have trouble walking; patients develop ulcers in their legs, which are secondary to arterial blockages,” she says. “Various conditions can affect the aorta or other blood vessels, such as in the leg. They’re often treated with stents and balloons or other surgery.”
Vascular surgery covers everything from traditional open surgery to endovascular surgery, which involves circulatory system blockages or other disorders, adds Dr. Ozsvath, who is also an associate professor of surgery at Albany Medical Center.
Times have certainly changed, she notes, for women in the medical profession. “Because I grew up in Texas and because I’m female — I went to school at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas and graduated in 1992 — I was pretty much told by some professors and medical residents that I could never seriously pursue surgery because I’m a girl.”
Undaunted, she continued her studies and later moved to Manhattan to do her surgical training at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital. “It was wonderful. Something like 45 percent of those in the residency program were women, and my mentor was a female, African-American vascular surgeon; we still keep in touch.” She applied and got a fellowship to study vascular surgery at Albany Medical Center, “And I have been up here in the region ever since.”
In med school, she recalls, “I originally thought I’d do cardiac bypass surgery — my nickname was Cardiac Kath. But when I was at St. Luke’s, I was exposed to a lot of vascular surgery. I love taking care of the sick. I also love to sew, so becoming a vascular surgeon was like doing really fine sewing work on blood vessels. I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
She says that while most people are aware of the health dangers of hardening of the arteries in the heart, “most don’t realize that anybody with hardening of the heart arteries probably has it elsewhere in the body, too.” As a vascular surgeon, she addresses blockages in the main arteries outside the heart.
“Venous work is also near and dear to my heart,” she says, referring to treatments involving the veins. “Arteries have always been considered more ‘sexy’ in the medical world, but now a lot of recent developments involve equipment and treatment specifically for veins.”
Many vein conditions no longer require hospital treatments, says Dr. Ozsvath, who lives in Loudonville with her 11-year-old daughter and her husband, Dr. Gary Bernardini, a neurologist who specializes in strokes and critical care. “Simple treatments can get rid of varicose veins and problems associated with that, as well as cosmetic vein work and conditions that cause pain and swelling — it can all usually be done in an office-based setting. That’s exciting, and patients appreciate the ease of treatment.”
She adds: “Vein care isn’t just about looking good in your bikini at the beach. While we can help people get rid of those annoying little spider veins, many patients have severe pain or perhaps an ulcer. They’re coming to us for medical reasons.”
One breakthrough involves treating vein blockages in the abdominal area that occur because of trauma. “We started a program in January to treat patients who have problems in veins above the groin. It’s for venous occlusive disease — veins that are completely clotted off, leading to problems in the legs. We’ve successfully treated several patients, and completely opened up blocked-off veins.” It’s done in the operating room, using tiny stents and balloons, she says. “This is a whole new emerging field, and only a few centers across the country have looked at it so far.”
Another breakthrough for vein blockages: intravascular ultrasound. “With this, we’re able to access the inner part of the vein,” Dr. Ozsvath says. “It’s not brand-new, but it’s technology that was first used in the heart when heart stenting was first being done. It’s a great way to diagnosis and treat patients with this type of vein problem.”