Heart and Soul: The Lifelong Journey of Dr. Craig Walker – Point of Vue November 2023

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For Dr. Craig Walker, Interventional Cardiologist, Founder, and President of the Cardiovascular Institute of the South, working to save lives has been a lifelong calling. 

Dr. Craig Michael Walker is a native of Bourg, Louisiana, who attended Nicholls State University on an academic scholarship and completed a four-year pre-medical curriculum in two years, going on to be awarded the university’s Pre-medicine Award. He subsequently attended LSU Medical School in New Orleans earning his doctorate in medicine in 1977. Dr. Walker completed a three-year internal medicine residency where he served as chief medical resident, and a cardiology fellowship at Ochsner Foundation Hospital, where he was one of the first interventional fellows in the U.S. Dr. Walker then went on to perform a research fellowship at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Dr. Walker is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, and interventional cardiology. He is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology, the American College of Physicians, the American Society of Cardiovascular Interventionists, the International College of Angiology, the Society for Cardiac Angiography and Interventions, the American College of Chest Physicians and the Council on Clinical Cardiology. 

Dr. Walker’s interest in medicine, and his first step on this successful path, began at a very young age. “When I was a very young boy, in preschool, my father was diagnosed with cancer,” said Dr. Walker. “I remember my mother crying– his case was considered terminal at the time, and we did not think he would survive. My father, however, was treated by Houma doctors Ernest and Willard Ellender, and they decided to operate on him, even when everyone else in the field insisted he would never make it. My father went on to not only survive the operation, but to live another 25 happy years with our family. I thought, at that moment, it was the most miraculous thing to see these doctors beat the odds and follow their convictions that my father’s life could be saved, even when everyone said it couldn’t.”

Following his father’s operation, Dr. Walker’s two older brothers went off to medical school, and the local cardiologist remembers the excitement he would feel when his brothers came home and shared all they were learning with him. “They would explain to me what they were studying and the exciting things happening in the field at the time,” explained Dr. Walker. “It just further solidified at a young age that medicine can be a really special profession, a noble calling with the chance to help people and do extraordinary things.”

After pursuing higher education and experience in the field, Dr. Walker returned to Houma in 1983 to pursue his life’s goal of establishing a world-class cardiovascular program in South Louisiana. Dr. Walker’s mission led him to create Houma Heart Clinic, which quickly expanded to multiple communities in Louisiana, prompting a name change to Cardiovascular Institute of the South. “The practice is now internally-esteemed with more than 20 clinics in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Illinois,” reads a description on the Cardiovascular Institute of the South’s website. “Over the past 30 years, CIS has participated in groundbreaking research recognized across the world. Dr. Walker has served as the principal investigator in the initial stent, atherectomy, and drug-coated balloon trials. He is known as a pioneer in interventional cardiology, particularly in peripheral vascular interventions for which his techniques and inventions have been cited internationally as transformative. He has also trained more than 1,500 physicians in advanced peripheral interventional techniques.”

Dr. Walker explained that the most rewarding part of his work at the Cardiovascular Institute of the South has been his patient interactions, and how much he has learned and grown as a doctor from each experience. “Over my 40 year career I could say I have had thousands of impactful patients who have all taught me lessons,” chuckled Dr. Walker. “Each patient has shown me, in a humbling way, how much more there is to learn about medicine. I remember one man who came to me who had undergone seven failed surgeries to restore blood flow to his legs. He had a very severe case and he asked if I could help him– after an ultrasound and several more tests, it really looked like there was no option to help– but he was adamant we needed to try. I ended up performing the surgery, and very much to my surprise, we were extremely successful. The patient kept that leg for another 13 years, and that taught me just because traditional teachings teach something, that doesn’t always make them correct. We need to look beyond.”

Dr. Walker’s innovative and successful patient care at the Cardiovascular Institute of the South has not gone unnoticed by those in the community– the local doctor has received numerous academic and professional awards. He was the first native Louisianian to be chosen as one of “Ten Outstanding Young Americans” by the Jaycees, and has been awarded the “Health Care Hero Award” by New Orleans City Business, the James J. Buquet Jr. Award of Distinction by the Terrebonne Foundation of Academic Excellence, and an honorary doctorate of nursing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, to name of few. He was also one of the initial four inductees into the Nicholls State University Hall of Fame. In addition to these accolades, Dr. Walker has been appointed the esteemed title of Clinical Professor of Medicine at LSU School of Medicine and Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, as well as Clinical Editorial Board Member for HIPG Global Vascular Digest, and Clinical Editor for Vascular Disease Management.

Having enjoyed such a successful career, there is no doubt that Dr. Walker will continue to serve as a source of inspiration to those young students pursuing a medical career in Terrebonne Parish. “If I could give one piece of advice to those who are going into a medical career, it would be to utilize what a privilege it is to put their lives in your hands – learn to share in your patients joys and defeats,” said Dr. Walker. “For me, that is what makes this work truly special and rewarding. I look forward to going into work everyday, and I look forward to seeing my patients who have become my friends and hearing how they are doing. My advice to young doctors would be to tap into that passion and personal aspect of the job as much as possible.”

As of now, Dr. Walker has no plans to retire, and will continue serving the people of southern Louisiana as long as possible. “I hope the future of healthcare is a stronger move towards prevention, rather than trying to cure patients later in the disease – and I plan to be a part of that movement,” said Dr. Walker. “I have really enjoyed working in my professorship at Tulane and LSU Schools of Medicine, and I truly treasure teaching and training the younger generation. Watching them go out into the community, or the United States, and excel in the field while making lifesaving discoveries has been incredibly rewarding. I hope to continue influencing the field on where we are, and where we might go.” 

After 40 years of serving countless people and advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine, Dr. Craig Walker is helping to make the people of the Houma-Thibodaux area happier and more heart-healthy than ever – saving and improving lives one patient at a time.