Get to know Dr. Robert Campbell
Why and how are you involved with the SADS Foundation?
I was a pediatric cardiologist in Atlanta starting in the late 90s. The first time I got involved with SADS was at a meeting at Heart Rhythm Society. And Mike Vincent was giving a talk. I’m sitting there going, maybe someday I’ll grow up and I can talk like that, or I can be that smart. But I went up afterwards and introduced myself. I mean, I’m right out of the audience. He didn’t know me from Adam. He pulled out a chair and said sit down, and he started taking notes. As busy as he was he took the time to say, let me get to know you. He was so gracious to spend time with me that day. He really helped me embrace the opportunity to treat people right.
I got more involved and kept in touch with him. I’d always call him and pick his brain. And one day, he said, you know, you ought to just join the board. And so I started on the scientific board. And then finally, I think about 2006, I joined the board of directors. But it was always an invitation through him. That’s what got me here. It was a good opportunity for me, I’ve learned way more than I’ve ever taught. Our service here is better because of knowing him and learning from him.
What caused you to enter pediatric cardiology?
That’s an interesting story. I don’t know that it was ever really my plan to go to med school. My older brother was a doctor, nine years older than me. And I don’t think he really influenced me – nobody else in the family was a doc. In high school, I was the original Forrest Gump, I was either in class studying or I was outside running and playing some kind of sport. So my interest really was around health and wellbeing and fitness and conditioning, things like that. I hated taking care of people who didn’t take care of themselves. And pediatrics was sort of a little different.
The other is Dr. Plauth. In med school, he was a pediatric cardiologist, and he was a very gracious person and took me under his wing. Very eccentric, very delightfully eccentric. After I spent some time with him, every chance I got, I’d go on rounds with him to see patients. And it seemed pretty interesting. And then he got me an externship at Boston as a fourth year medical student. And from there, I went into pediatric cardiology.
The very first day I was at Michigan, starting my fellowship, I was in the cath lab and all the techs were in there, they’re all whispering. I’m going, what are you whispering about? They said, “well, you’re the new Phys boy.” And I said, Keep talking, I’m listening, what? “You’re the new electrophysiology fellow.” And I said, still keep talking because I don’t know what that is. It was so long ago, we didn’t have ablation. We didn’t have pacemakers. We didn’t have all these things that we sort of take for granted now. But none of the other fellows wanted to do it. So basically, I spent three years doing every single arrhythmic procedure and learning all these new things.
What are you most excited about in current research?
Adult electrophysiology is not part of our group and not even part of our same system. So that’s a challenge for us. But I think that one thing would be to figure out, are there really no-risk Long QT groups? I think Michael Ackerman’s getting to some of that – are there certain patients that have this genotype that really don’t need to be treated, don’t need to be restricted? And also continuing to refine the risk stratification, or the guidelines for management, of the pediatric patients.
What’s a patient story that sticks with you?
Again, I’m in pediatric cardiology. And so we don’t take care of adults. I’ve been on the board for the Georgia chapter of the American College of Cardiology, and that Georgia ACC branch is really one of the biggest and one of the most involved, one of the most influential. So being on the board was a good opportunity. We have an annual meeting down at the Ritz Carlton here in Georgia. And so I got myself on the agenda. It’s a meeting that starts on Friday and goes through Sunday, midday. I had a one hour slot, I wanted to talk about Project SAVE, SADS, Project Adam, those different perspectives, but I got the last slot on Sunday morning. Well, by that time, a lot of people have already left. The people that are left are waiting for the raffle to see if they won anything from talking to the vendors, or their family still wants to do something on Sunday. The room was about half full of almost all adult cardiologists – there were really no other pediatric cardiology groups in the state. And none of the others came to that meeting.
So I’m really talking to a roomful of adult cardiologists, and I’m talking about preventing pediatric and young adult sudden cardiac arrest. How do you hook the audience on Sunday, the last talk of the meeting – why should they pay attention to what I have to say? I said, here’s a case example. There was a woman who had delivered a baby, she’s early 30s. About four weeks after delivery, she had documented atrial fibrillation, cardiac arrest. And she got an ICD, got put on medicines, her function was down. And the adult cardiologist taking care of her said, Well, she had postpartum cardiomyopathy. That was the cause of all of this.
Fast forward five years later, she’s back in. She’s in the ICD program, having it checked. And the electrophysiologist, a good friend, a good adult electrophysiologist, asked one question, one really important question. He said, any change in your family history? And she said, Oh, by the way, my 40 year old brother recently was found dead in bed. It was autopsy negative. He said, I really want you to go over to see Robert Campbell because this just doesn’t sound like a normal family history. And she came over and her little girl has an abnormal EKG. We genotype her she’s got Long QT. Well, the dead brother has a three year old daughter, and we test her she’s got the same Long QT 2 genes. So obviously mom has Long QT too. And so does the brother who died. So by asking that one family history question, it connected all the dots.
So my point to the adult cardiologists was, you know, it’s that old saying: you see what you know, but you also hear what you know. And if you don’t know the story, if you don’t know the warning signs for family history, you won’t hear it. I said, if we have this conversation here, this weekend, when you’re standing out at the end of your neighborhood at a cocktail party with somebody who says, well, you’re a doc, let me ask you about this, and you hear that story, you’re gonna say, Hey, we need to get this checked out, instead of just saying, Oh, man, that’s terrible. And that really plays into part of Project SAVE where we’ve tried to emphasize so much the patient family history. We’re not proponents of routine mass ECG screening, but rather to ask a lot of questions and get a good detailed family history. That’s the story that sticks with me the most.