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Mending broken hearts – Waikato’s retiring cardiologist

Dr Clyde Wade at the Waikato Hospital cath lab during his final week as a full-time cardiologist for the hospital. 

He has literally touched the hearts of thousands, but it is the patients he never saw that make him most proud. Waikato District Health Board cardiologist Clyde Wade has dedicated his professional life to public practice, but his accomplishments span far wider than that of the cardiology department.

His arrival in 1982 at Waikato Hospital was quiet and understated but within five years his appointment would prove instrumental in developing a cardiac surgery service for Waikato Hospital. Early on he wrote a report outlining the cardiological needs of Waikato and the regions surrounding it. The report showed Waikato was under performing in access to cardiac surgery and services. The report became a blueprint for the development of cardiology services and as a result when the Lang Committee of Inquiry went looking for a place to institute cardiac surgery Waikato Hospital was in a position to contest the tender.

Clyde recalls the political jostle that occurred in an effort to win the bid. He said when he heard people from the inquiry were coming to visit and see if Waikato Hospital had the capabilities to host cardiac surgery he and his colleagues devised a plan.

“They were coming to visit us one afternoon at 4:30, but back then at 4:30pm you could play archery in these halls. So we wised up a couple of patients to have a some tests done in the afternoon…by the time the people turned up I took them down to theatre and quickly ran to find a phone and ring the cardiac catheterisation lab (cath lab) to say you can start in about 10 minutes,” he said.

“Well, by the time we got up to the cath lab it was buzzing with activity.”

Dr Clyde Wade with the first ever cardiac perfusion machine.

Dr Clyde Wade with the first ever cardiac perfusion machine which he helped secure from Germany. It has since been superceded by two new machines which Clyde also helped import.

A few months passed before in March two moments that would alter Clyde’s life happen minutes apart.

“It was March 1987 and I had nicked off to ultrasound with my wife. I was looking at the screen and thought, oh-o there’s more than one in there. Next the sonographer said “there are at least two in there.” I thought we are going to need a bigger car but my wife said something unprintable. Before I really could process it the receptionist popped her head around the curtain and told me she had a call for me. I thought who even knows I am here? It was the medical superintendent; we were getting funded to start cardiac surgery.”

Clyde wrote and implemented the plan for cardiac surgery. He recruited surgeons, anaesthetists and perfusionists – which coincidentally led to the need for Waikato Hospital’s first clinical fax machine as talks with doctors far and wide was nowhere near as simple as an email.

“I was communicating with a surgeon in Wales but our only fax machine was down the hill in Purchasing, so I would run down there and try and find his fax or send him a fax, which coincidentally he didn’t have a fax machine and had to go to his lawyers office every time, till finally the $6.2 million came through and I spent our first $800 on a fax machine.”

From there things just started to happen. Helen Scarett, a perfusionists just turned up in reception looking for a job, so I basically hired her on the spot said Clyde.

By 1990 the service was running and Clyde along with Hamish Charleson and John Ormiston were conceiving plans to introduce coronary angioplasty. Four years on Waikato Hospital was the first to offer 24×7 primary angioplasty services, a decade earlier than anywhere else in New Zealand.

Since 1989 Waikato Hospital Cardiac Surgery and Angioplasty services have a treated over 24,000 patients from throughout the midlands region and does more than 600 cardiac surgeries and 800 angioplasty procedures a year. Because of Clyde’s dedication to see the service be bigger than any one practitioner Waikato Hospital is considered a leading cardiac centre in Australasia and has had the opportunity to pioneer transcatheter aortic valve procedures and developed skills in electrophysiology.

But this is only one of many times Clyde stepped up to make services more accessible to patients in the Waikato. First and foremost he has been a clinician with a genuine love for his patients and staff but when you ask him what has kept him going, his answer is quite profound.

“I have had a lot of freedom in this organisation and I can walk away knowing that I have been part of team that has made health easier to access for more people. Cardiac surgery in Waikato has treated more than 24,000 patients, I as a single clinician could never have done that.”

Clinical nurse specialist Catherine Callagher has worked alongside Clyde for more than 20 years. She describes the man as funny but never too busy.

“No matter what time or what he was doing, he could be in the paddock with deer, you could always ring Clyde and he was never too busy to help you.”

“He has a love for his patients, he will sit next to them and deliver bad news, comfort them. He is totally human but he also has this cheeky sense of humour and Clydisms that just resonate with everyone.  For example sometimes after a patient has had a cardiac episode and is mended on their way home he will say “You’ll probably live to 90 and be shot by a jealous lover”.”

His desire to see access increased spread far wider than Waikato Hospital; many people in rural Waikato will have a story about how Clyde has changed their service. From developing the internationally renowned model of General Practice seen at Te Kuiti Medical Centre, to developing the Taumarunui Bus service and the de-institutionalisation of intellectually disabled patients from Tokanui Hospital, his care for the Waikato has reached far beyond his role as a cardiologist.

At Clyde’s farewell Dr Tom Watson said Clyde can be described as someone that makes things happen.

“He brings people together and services together. When I started here Clyde had really changed the culture of doctors and in years to come I know we will look back and thank him for that. He has been responsible for taking us from a small rural hospital to the tertiary institution we are today.”

The famous chuckle that Clyde brings to the hospital hallways and his sharp wit will be missed. The place will not only loose a passionate and skilled cardiologist but a man who has constantly found a way to create solutions.

His political nous will not be lost though as he continues to see out his term on the Waikato District Health Board but his legacy will be about service.

“I as a single clinician, could never have treated as many patients as the services I helped build now see and that is what I walk away proud of.”

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