A Cardiologist’s Memories and Motives for Better Health
The work of an interventional cardiologist at FirstHealth
By Crissy Neville » Photos by Diana Matthews
At a time when most young men are having the time of their lives, Robeson County native William Harris was having a hard time coping with a painful situation. Little known to the college sophomore, the struggle he then faced would change the trajectory of his education, and ultimately, his life.
Now 20 years later, Dr. William L. Harris, M.D., an interventional cardiologist of FirstHealth of the Carolinas in Pinehurst, names the impact of his mother’s diagnosis and battle with coronary artery disease in the early 2000s as the “eye-opening” experience that showed him the personal side of medicine — the catalyst that guided him to medicine for a career and the cardiovascular sciences as his life’s work.
“My mom was stricken with heart disease during my second year of undergraduate school,” shared Harris. “It was sudden. Over a few weeks, she developed what I now know was angina and congestive heart failure and became acutely hospitalized at Moore Regional Hospital. I spent countless hours and days in the hospital with her and had a lot of meaningful interactions with her cardiovascular team. I was impressed by the power of the staff to comfort, not only her but us, her family, too. I was interested in medicine before this, but it was the experience with my mother that catapulted me into the direction of medical school and cardiology.”
Like so many women, Harris’ mother succumbed to her sickness in November 2002. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the nation, killing almost 300,000 women in 2017, accounting for about one in every five female deaths. Although heart disease is sometimes thought of as a man’s disease, almost as many women as men die each year of heart disease in the country.
Harris’ early, pain-staking encounter with cardiovascular disease put him on a lifelong mission to curtail these statistics in rural southeastern North Carolina, from which he hailed and to where he returned after finishing his education. Following his mother’s death, Harris went on to complete a bachelor’s degree in biology and to obtain a medical degree from the UNC School of Medicine in 2006. After completing a residency in internal medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in 2009, he spent a year as a hospitalist at Moore Regional Hospital before entering the East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine in Greenville for fellowships in cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology. With board certifications in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology, Harris returned to Moore County to practice medicine in 2014 with a new position on the FirstHealth Cardiology physician team. Today, he puts his advanced study of cardiovascular disease to use seeing patients at the Reid Heart Center, the FirstHealth Cardiac and Vascular Institute at Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst and the FirstHealth Cardiology clinic in Laurinburg. He also serves patients through in-and-outpatient care, and in emergency services, at Moore Regional Hospital.
Harris and his wife Amy Denson Harris, a nurse practitioner also with FirstHealth, were happy to return to their southeastern North Carolina roots and to the relationship Harris began with FirstHealth some years before. They now live in Pinehurst with their two small children.
“Moving to Pinehurst allowed me to be near my family in my Robeson County hometown of Pembroke and to help alter the rates of cardiovascular disease in this part of the state, things I care deeply about. I am proud to be a part of the FirstHeatlh mission to be a top-notch cardiovascular center that continues to expand services and stays modern,” says Harris.
In his role with FirstHealth, Harris’s patient panel includes adult men and women with various degrees of cardiac illness including coronary atherosclerosis, the most common cause of coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, valvular heart diseases such as aortic stenosis and cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation. As an interventionalist cardiologist, Harris helps to resolve the disease processes by invasively intervening with a catheter-based approach using coronary artery angioplasty and stenting procedures. He also evaluates and offers outpatient procedures to patients with peripheral artery disease.
Milestones for Harris include being a part of the team that performed the first coronary angioplasty and stent procedure at Scotland Memorial Hospital, where FirstHealth provides a cardiovascular catheterization lab and has a dual county and hospital joint relationship. Harris said the venture has been a “great success, with nearly 300 coronary angioplasty procedures with excellent outcomes to date.” This achievement testifies, according to Harris, “to FirstHealth’s commitment to bringing advanced state-of-the-art health care to the southeastern region, not just Pinehurst.”
Another noteworthy achievement, Harris is also part of the valve team at FirstHealth, working alongside other structural cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons “to bring the latest medical technologies to patients in treating valvular heart disease,” he said. In this role, he was part of the team to perform the record 200th valve replacement procedure, known as TAVR, or the transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure.
FirstHealth leads the region in advanced heart care, and that tradition continues with the work of interventional cardiologist Dr. William L. Harris, M.D.