Meet Alexandra Tuluca, MD, FACS
Alexandra Tuluca, MD, the Associate Chief of Cardiac Surgery, is a busy attending cardiothoracic surgeon for the Einstein Healthcare Network. She is one of only a handful of female heart surgeons in the country and is a recent recipient of a “40 under 40” award by the Pennsylvania Medical Society. Her interests include minimally invasive cardiac surgery, the treatment of aortic disease, and endovascular surgery.
We sat down with her recently to talk about her career, discovering some of the steps along the way that led to her time and clinical interests at Einstein.
Q: You’re a cardiothoracic surgeon. In layman’s terms, what does that mean? What kind of conditions do you treat?
A: In layman’s terms it means I’m a heart surgeon. I perform procedures that relate to the heart, such as coronary artery bypass surgery, valve repair or replacement, and aortic aneurysm surgery. Of course, within each of those categories there are further subtleties. In heart valves, for example, there’s minimally invasive valve work that can be done through “mini-incisions” as well as percutaneously. Specifically, I perform a percutaneous treatment called TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement) in high volume here at Einstein.
Q: In a lot of ways, some of that really seems new, compared to how it was done in the past.
A: Yes, cardiac surgery as a field is rapidly evolving. I think the traditional thinking about heart surgery is that all the patients that get surgery are incredibly sick and stay in the hospital for weeks or even months. That’s really not the case and is largely a thing of the past. Many times, heart surgery is actually quite safe. I would say our success rates are very high. Patients go home, on average, between four and five days after surgery. We have also made a lot of advances in the minimally-invasive realm. At Einstein, we probably do a lot more minimally-invasive surgery for isolated valve and bypass procedures than other places in the city. Not everyone can do it.
Q: What drew you to your specialty?
A: I have wanted to be a surgeon, literally, since I was about 4 years old. My grandfather was a surgeon in a small town. He was surgeon-in-chief at one of the two major hospitals.
I still remember specifically how my grandfather affected the lives of his patients. As an example, I remember how we would walk down the street and people would just stop him and say, “Oh, Dr. Tuluca, do you remember me? You operated on me and saved my life!” All of those types of memories just resonate with me. I always remember them and have not veered from that. I think my entire life I just wanted to be a surgeon as I was so inspired by my grandfather.
During my second year of surgery residency, I remember seeing a complex heart operation and that was it. I remember saying to myself, “This is what I’m going to do.” Fast forward years later and I am doing what I love.
Heart surgery is a very exciting field. We’ve made a lot of progress in short amount of time. When you put things in perspective, the field of cardiac surgery itself didn’t truly start until the 1950s. That means it has been less than 100 years since we’ve been doing such complex procedures, even globally! So, to go from not even having a heart-lung machine at the very beginning to now doing many operations through smaller incisions or through catheter and wire-based percutaneous procedures, it surely is a field that is constantly evolving.
There’s definitely a technical aspect of these surgeries that I enjoy, but what is most satisfying for me is to make such a difference in patients’ quality of life. I have patients who see me prior to surgery all the time who are just miserable. They have chest pain or they haven’t been able to go up a flight of stairs. They just aren’t able to live their life to the fullest, and then you do a surgery, guide them safely through, and often immediately after they say they can breathe better, feel better, and have more energy. It’s just incredibly rewarding.
Q: What drew you to Einstein?
A: I trained at Temple University for general surgery. I was raised in New Jersey, and went to medical school in New Jersey, so I’ve been in this area for a while. My husband, Jay Simhan, also works for Einstein as a surgeon in the Urology department; we both were recruited to Einstein at the same time. Although we were recruited nationally to various cities, we always loved Philadelphia and loved the mission of Einstein. It just worked out that we both found positions that we felt would satisfy what we wanted.
Q: What are your clinical interests?
A: I like to focus my practice on aortic surgery in particular. This includes minimally-invasive aortic valves, transcatheter aortic valves, aortic roots, aortic aneurysms, and endovascular aortic surgery. I am one of the few surgeons in the region with specific training in aortic conditions and I have a fair amount of experience performing surgeries within this subspecialty.
Q: So you perform procedures at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, and you’re also at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia?
A: Yes. This week, I operated at Einstein Philadelphia on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then I operated at Einstein Montgomery on Monday and Thursday.
Q: Do you have a favorite book, or books?
A: I like science fiction. Any sort of sci-fi type book, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, any Isaac Asimov book, HG Wells, any old-school sci-fi book, I’ve read it, and loved it.
Q: Favorite movie?
A: Star Wars. Really, the old Star Wars. We’re going to skip the three episodes (Episodes I, II, and III) that were totally awful, and then the new Star Wars. I also really, really like the Marvel Universe movies. I could just watch those movies, when they’re on TV. Just turn the TV on, “Oh! Captain America!”
Q: What is there about you that people might not know?
A: Many people don’t know this, but I was born in Romania. I came to the United States as a teenager at the start of my high school education in this country. Although moving here basically uprooted my entire life in Romania, I came here with my dad to live the American dream.