When you need a new doctor, it’s natural to ask another one for a recommendation. For this article, we borrowed this practice and asked Castle Connolly, the physician-led medical data research team whose job it is to vet doctors around the country, to provide its list of the top physicians in our communities.
To compile this list, the company’s experts first asked medical leaders in lower Fairfield County to point out physicians believed to be the best in their respective fields. The nominees’ credentials, including educational and professional experience, were then carefully checked.
To see the full list pick up our January issue, below read the profiles of six local doctors.
Paul J. Apostolides, M.D.
On the operating table, sometimes even the best-laid plans have to be scrapped. For Dr. Paul Apostolides, whose focus is the spine, one of those moments came in 2001, with a forty-four-year-old female patient who had five fractured vertebrae.
The patient, who had previously battled breast cancer, assumed that those tumors had spread to her back and damaged bones there, which made her reluctant to go under the knife, since she figured she had only a few months to live. And it was not an encouraging sign when she walked into the hospital for a visit with Dr. Apostolides and within a few hours was paralyzed from the waist down.
What Dr. Apostolides discovered instead was spine damage caused mainly by a deeply buried abscess spawned by a staph infection, which was a far different, and fortunately less severe problem. It was also one requiring an on-the-spot change in strategy.
By basically removing the “mushy bone” and stabilizing the spine with screws, over the course of an exhaustive twelve-hour procedure—his longest on record—Dr. Apostolides was able to “straighten her out the best we could,” he says, in a comment that seems modest, as she was back walking unassisted within a year.
Today, as if to celebrate her newfound mobility, the patient continues to send postcards from far-flung locales, like a recent one of her in a boat in the Galapagos Islands. “It’s remarkable because the prediction would have been that this woman would have never walked again,” Dr. Apostolides explains.
A Massachusetts native who went to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, Dr. Apostolides was excited to return to the University of Massachusetts. But an internship at Phoenix’s Maricopa Medical Center, and subsequent residency and fellowship at that city’s top-ranked Barrow Neurological Institute, had him missing New England, which is why in 1998 he said yes to an offer from Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists, his current practice.
And true to form, the Greenwich resident can these days be found hitting the slopes in Vermont, at the Smugglers’ Notch ski resort, where he always wears a helmet, naturally. “It also keeps your head nice and warm,” he jokes.
Frances Ginsburg, M.D.
There’s little question that the typical job performed by a reproductive endocrinologist—helping women get pregnant—offers a tremendous value to individuals and society. After all, humans need to propagate. But such treatments aren’t usually hinged on life-or-death outcomes, which is why the case of one of Dr. Frances Ginsburg’s early patients in the 1980s was so notable.
Ostensibly the patient came to Dr. Ginsburg because her menstrual cycles had stopped, despite only being in her late thirties. But the woman also had other odd symptoms—sky-high blood pressure, fat deposits on the back of her neck and wounds that wouldn’t heal—that had perplexed previous doctors.
However, Dr. Ginsburg, who was fresh off her training and well-versed in textbooks, was able to identify the ailment as Cushing’s Syndrome, which stemmed from an adrenal gland tumor. If left untreated, the condition could have led to a stroke and possibly death, so its detection made Dr. Ginsburg something of a hero. “It’s not very often that an endocrinologist saves somebody’s life,” says Dr. Ginsburg.
With her undergraduate years spent at Ohio University in Athens,Dr. Ginsburg then headed to New York University for medical school, her residency and a fellowship. In 1986 she began practicing in Stamford.
Back then she made an early name for herself by offering operative hysteroscopies, which allow lesions to be removed from the uterus without having to take out the entire organ with a hysterectomy. As the procedure has gained mainstream acceptance, Dr. Ginsburg performs “many hundreds a year.” In those days, too, in vitro fertilizations were cutting-edge science. Today they are performed regularly.
The current medical frontier, meanwhile, involves women over forty seeking to be moms increasingly turning to donor eggs to get pregnant, she explains, though bearing children after a certain age presents its own unique set of challenges.
But those can almost be seen as welcome problems, because they illustrate civilization’s fundamental progress. “Women are living longer than a generation ago,” Dr. Ginsburg says. “Our job now is to make that time more productive.”
Neil A. Gordon, M.D.
Otolaryngology and Reconstructive Surgery
Bridgeport Hospital & Norwalk Hospital
Because plastic surgery can carry a stigma, Dr. Neil Gordon takes extra steps to make sure a patient’s post-operation face is a plausible facsimile of the one they walked in with. “We take them out of their lives and put them back in seamlessly,” whether they are members of the royal family, chief executives or politicians, he explains.
But a recent patient, who is a well-known star on a popular primetime TV program, proved particularly challenging. Since the show’s cameras favor extended close-ups, viewers (and celebrity bloggers) might easily detect if her skin suddenly had a starkly different appearance. But after treatment and a few weeks’ stay at The Retreat at Split Rock, Dr. Gordon’s highly private four-acre complex in Wilton, no viewers were the wiser, which equals success. “When nobody knows they had something, just maybe that they lost some weight, that’s what we want,” he says.
Much of the inconspicuousness stems from a technique called a “deep plane lift,” which Dr. Gordon explains with a peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwich analogy. Instead of moving the top layer of bread, or skin, like most conventional face-lifts do, Dr. Gordon repositions the bottom layer, or muscle tissue, to avoid drastically altering the look of the top.
Offered by only a handful of plastic surgeons nationwide, the technique is also a frequent topic of lectures Dr. Gordon gives at the Yale School of Medicine, where he’s now a full-time faculty member.
Yale is also the place where Dr. Gordon did his internship and residency after earning degrees at SUNY’s University at Albany and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Dr. Gordon, who lives in Wilton, also completed a fellowship at Tulane University in New Orleans.
While 85 percent of his clients, who in the past eighteen months have hailed from thirty-nine states and nine countries, are women, he says, men are increasingly turning up as well, in a possible sign of greater cultural acceptance.
“Loose necks are the kind of thing that makes them look old,” Dr. Gordon explains, “and makes it hard to be competitive in the business world.”
K.M. Steve Lo, M.D.
For years, pregnant patients presented acute challenges for Dr. Steve Lo, whose specialty is using chemotherapy to treat breast cancer. Most of the commonly used powerful post-surgery chemicals posed grave threats to fetuses, which is why abortions usually had to occur to allow treatments to proceed.
But in 2002, in the case of a woman expecting her first child, Dr. Lo became convinced that by modifying certain agents and mixing them with cutting-edge newer ones, he could create a special cocktail that would combat cancer while the fetus remained safe.
And that novel approach, which was undertaken only after weeks of discussion with the patient and during the second trimester, when fetuses are typically more resilient, seems to have worked. In eight years, the disease has not recurred in the mother, Dr. Lo says, and her young son has turned out fine. “The key,” says the North Stamford resident, summing up his philosophy, “is to take care of the cancer in a way that allows the patient to have the maximal quality of life.”
Improvements in drugs over the past decade play a large part, says Dr. Lo, a Hong Kong native and graduate of both Harvard College and its medical school, who completed his residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a fellowship at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, both in Boston.
Indeed, in the early 1990s, around the time he moved to Connecticut, someone suffering from metastatic lung cancer might have just a year to live, he explains, though now it might be five. “Cancer has become a chronic disease and not a killer.”
But chemistry is only part of it. A staunch advocate of healthy eating, Dr. Lo implores patients to eat more granola for breakfast and salads for lunch, in keeping with a low-fat diet. Exercise, too, is vital, adds Dr. Lo, who underwrites thrice-weekly gym memberships for patients. Taken together those steps can lower the recurrence rate of breast cancer by up to 30 percent, he says.
In fact, if everybody were to follow that regimen, and potentially keep cancer at bay to begin with, Dr. Lo might face a work shortage. “That,” he notes, “would be wonderful.”
Suresh Mandava, M.D.
Asking someone to let their sight deteriorate to the point of blindness while preparations are made for a new type of cornea surgery was not the easiest request ever made of a patient, admits Dr. Suresh Mandava, an ophthalmologist who faced that situation in 2006.
But the alternative wasn’t exactly desirable either. Back then replacing cloudy corneas with clear ones usually entailed removing the entire front part of the eye, which made the organ highly susceptible to infection and could lead to permanent blindness. And since the patient, an older woman, had basically been blind since birth in her other eye, putting her good one at risk was not an option, he says.
So permission was given to wait the extra weeks while Dr. Mandava became a whiz at experimental DSEK surgery, which replaces not the whole cornea but its lining, and which does so through a tiny incision, meaning the eye is basically protected during the process.
Although the first try didn’t work, because the new tissue didn’t take, a second attempt was successful in a procedure that was likely the first of its kind in Connecticut. Today the patient, is “back to being a very active chairwoman-of-everything kind of person,” says Dr. Mandava, adding that with desirable 20/40 vision in the repaired eye, “she’s even back to driving.”
Although he earned a diploma from Cornell University and finished medical school at Yale University, followed by an internship at Greenwich Hospital and residency at Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Institute, Dr. Mandava was off to the Midwest, the University of Minnesota, for his fellowship.
But itching to get back to the East Coast, where he grew up, Dr. Mandava accepted an offer in 1998 from Greenwich Hospital, which recruited him based on his expertise with corrective laser surgery. A year later, he opened Fairfield County Laser Vision in Stamford, where he is the medical director. Laser surgery procedures account for half his practice, he says, with cataract and corneal surgery making up the balance.
Dr. Mandava, who calls himself a gadgetphile, was drawn to his field by its constantly improving technologies and practices, though he’s also careful not to leap head first into surgeries “that aren’t proven,” he says. “It’s a very fine line.”
Michael Snyder, M.D.
Today, detecting heart issues can happen before children are born courtesy of fetal echocardiograms performed by pediatric cardiologists like Dr. Michael Snyder.
Pinpointing problems early is key, Snyder says, because it can give parents options: They can prepare for surgery right after birth, or possibly terminate the pregnancy. Either way, parents need the information. “It can be a long road to get the children from birth to the point of final procedures,” he says. “And it can be very difficult to comprehend all that in the moments after a baby is born.”
More typically though, Dr. Snyder’s patients are able to sit on the edge of an exam table. In fact, he often shepherds children through to young adulthood, keeping a close eye on their heart issues along the way.
Those “linear relationships” are endearing, says Dr. Snyder, who gets to be there with the children, in spirit at least, as they overcome hurdles, like a boy who underwent an operation in 2009, when he was sixteen, to expand a blocked valve that Dr. Snyder had monitored for years.
Sadly, that procedure resulted in an infection that required a total valve replacement. Yet despite missing a semester of school, the boy bounced back, so much so that he was preparing to play hockey for his school’s team this winter. “What I have been happiest about is his recovery.”
For his part, Dr, Snyder attended Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, before heading to what’s now known as Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York City, with an internship, residency and fellowship at what’s now New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
After a few years of working at New York-Presbyterian, Dr. Snyder began to see patients in the suburbs so they would not have to travel to New York for care. A Greenwich native, he opened his first Connecticut office in 1988, in Stamford, and since 1998, is based in Darien. Today, he also has a satellite office in Scarsdale and spends a few days a week at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, at New York-Presbyterian, where he’s also an associate clinical professor.
These days Dr. Snyder also worries about childhood obesity, which he likens to an “epidemic.” “It’s the gravest threat to our children’s health over the long term.”