The New Jersey native is passionate about heart health, dancing and art.
Dr. Sheila Sanhi is a multi-hyphenate. Beyond her work on Chasing the Cure and her full-time job as an interventional cardiologist, the New Jersey native loves to paint, dance and paddleboard.
Dr. Sanhi grew up in Rumson, New Jersey; the same town where Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi live. There, she was inspired by her doctor parents and fell in love with science at an early age. She went to college and medical school at Georgetown University and moved to New York City for her internal medicine residency at Mount Sinai Medical Center where she was recruited by the University of California, Los Angeles for a fellowship in cardiovascular diseases and interventional cardiology. Now, she practices medicine at Garden State Heart Center in Clark, New Jersey and is at work building a women’s heart program there.
We recently caught up with the thoughtful doctor to ask about her work on Chasing the Cure, her passion for heart health education and what music gets her out on the dancefloor.
So much of Chasing the Cure is about medical mysteries, I'm wondering if you have solved any in your own practice?
Mysteries come in all shapes and sizes, especially in medicine, and not all of them are like the mysteries that you see on the case files on Chasing the Cure. One of the things that I love about cardiology is that the patients are extremely mysterious. Cardiology is a dynamic field where I have to put together patients' symptoms. And because I treat a lot of women, their symptoms are oftentimes very subtle — and I combine that with a lot of data from EKG, stress test, echo lab work. And I have to come up with a conclusion that assesses their risk. The stakes are really high…I have to make a call, I have to ask myself, how serious do I think this is, do we need to treat them now, or is this something that I can sit on with medical therapy and wait six months?
What has been the most rewarding part of working on Chasing the Cure?
It's been two-fold: Being able to scale the impact that I could make as a physician beyond the walls of my patient rooms in New Jerseyhas been incredible. The other part that's been really rewarding is being part of a revolutionary project that really has such a novel use of technology and social media to build community around supporting others with medical conditions.
What do you think the benefits are to using social media for health purposes?
I've definitely been a pioneer in the use and implementation of social media in cardiology as well as interventional cardiology and it all stems around engagement. Social media, for its inherent quality of engagement, allows us all the opportunity to be more involved. So, in the medical communities specific to cardiology, social media allows for direct engagement, particularly during national meetings where new evidence-based science is coming out through late breaking clinical trials and you can follow national meetings and all of this new data by virtue of a hashtag and it's allowed a lot of early career, younger career and fellows, people of many different training levels, to engage with each other and learn from each other. Similarly, it's also allowed organizations like the American Heart Association to get out there, campaigns for prevention and overall awareness for the community about topics like heart disease being the number one killer for women.
Can you tell us more about your passion for women’s heart health?
For decades, more women have died every year because of heart disease compared with men. And what women need to know is that heart disease is their number one killer. In more recent years, things have slightly improved because of the American Heart Association's Go Red campaign, but we still have a lot of work to do because there's so much focus that's put on what we all think of as an obstructive disease — and that's a lot more dramatic in its presentation. But women can have a lot more of a subtle presentation when it comes to heart disease. And women often neglect themselves while they're taking care of others. So, being a woman in a field that's predominantly male-dominated makes me incredibly passionate about the gender disparity within my own disease that I'm treating because I have to live that gender disparity in my own profession. I see it when my patients are disenfranchised from not knowing the right symptoms. And by not knowing their at risk, and also not knowing what's good for them. Women are not just little men, and a lot of the studies that were done in heart disease focus predominantly on men. So it's really an evolving field of understanding how best to treat women with heart disease. But it begins with letting women know that heart disease is not just a man's disease.
What hobbies do you have outside of medicine?
I was an art history minor, so I love art. I love going to art museums. My favorite time period is 19th-century art post-impressionist work. But I also like some contemporary work, and I picked up the paintbrush and started painting myself in medical school. Henri Matisse is my favorite artist.
I also love being active outdoors. Over the last three years, I've become very fond of standup paddleboarding.
Do you have any favorite bands or music?
I love to dance. I like a very wide genre of music, anything with rhythm and soul to dance to. I was on the Latin dance team, so I love Latin music. I love bhangra music, it's from Northern India in the Punjab region — and it goes with this Indian folk dance that I love to do. And I also love tropical deep house music from my time I spent in L.A.
What podcasts do you like to listen to?
I love "On Purpose" by Jay Shetty. Jay Shetty was a monk, a long time ago, and his podcasts are all about growth development and a positive mindset for optimal performance. And I really enjoy listening to them.
Is there anything people might be surprised to find out about you?
When people see how busy I am — because I'm working on a lot of different projects — they are always very surprised when they find out how into cooking and my healthy lifestyle I am. It’s something I make time to do as well as spending time with my family.
What’s your advice for people, or their loved ones, who are dealing with their own medical mystery?
Many patients have a sense of knowing when something isn't right in their bodies and that instinct and that intuition is often correct. And I want those patients to know that when you feel you're not being heard — or that there's something going on that hasn't been addressed — to go deeper by seeking out medical care, whether it means seeing other physicians or calling up a friend to ask them if they can refer you to a doctor. I really believe that we need to go deeper when patients have symptoms that don't add up, and we need to go that extra mile. And sometimes as a physician, you do need to recognize your own limitations and help the patient go further.
Sophia Kercher is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the editorial director of Chasing the Cure. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Women’s Health and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications.