It’s impossible to separate the history of Vancouver Clinic or the advancement of cardiology care in this community from Dr. John Greves. The son of Alaskan homesteaders, he was delivered by the clinic’s founder, Dr. John Brougher, and cared for by clinic pediatrician Dr. David Loree. Years later, Dr. Greves would become Dr. Loree’s cardiologist.
Dr. Greves spent his childhood in Vancouver. His family then moved to Evansville, Indiana when he was 11. He showed an early interest in the “healing arts” and, by the time he was a senior in high school, knew he wanted to be pre-med. He attended Wabash College, a small men’s college with a great reputation for getting young men into medical school. After earning his bachelor’s, he enrolled at Indiana University Medical School.
In between studying and learning medicine, Dr. Greves fell in love and married his wife Mari. One stifling hot summer day in 1971, a year before he graduated, the two of them resolved to move back west. The stories of Vancouver Clinic and Dr. Greves were set to converge again.
With a destination in mind, Dr. Greves focused on applying for internships on the West Coast and matched at OHSU. When he walked onto the hospital wards, Dr. Stan Freidberg, the first cardiologist to be hired at the clinic, was there. The two became close throughout Dr. Greves’ residency and fellowship.
Following his training, Dr. Greves entered the U.S. Army Medical Corps and spent two years on active duty as commander of the 6th General Dispensary in Brunssum, the Netherlands. Toward the end of Dr. Greves’ service, Dr. Freidberg called to see if he would consider joining Vancouver Clinic. Dr. Greves became the clinic’s second cardiologist in 1979.
“I really connected with the mission, caring, patient focus, and collegiality,” he said. “It’s a fantastic place to practice medicine. I love the fact that we share a chart and look after a patient with input from multiple specialties. We’re able to constantly learn, keep up, and contribute.”
Building local care
Because Vancouver lacked facilities for heart patients, Dr. Greves primarily worked out of Portland hospitals. But it wasn’t long before Dr. Greves started collaborating with his colleague Dr. Thomas Kovaric, Columbia Cardiology, and what’s now PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center (PHSW) to build out the community’s heart-care capabilities.
“The entire time I’ve been here, I’ve wanted to see us deliver world-class care,” he said. “That’s the constant goal. Even though we’re a smaller community.”
They started by adding echocardiography, which uses sonography to investigate the heart, at Vancouver Clinic and the hospital. A cardiac catheterization laboratory, where coronary angiography and heart catheterization for pressure and flow measurements can be completed, followed in 1984. In 1992, Dr. Greves helped bring open-heart surgery to this side of the river.
The Heart and Vascular Center at PHSW now has five cardiology and angiography labs, including a hybrid catheterization lab used for transcatheter aortic valve replacements. A sixth lab for electrophysiology procedures is being built. There are also two open-heart surgical suites in the center.
“More than 50 percent of Americans either have a major vascular event or die from one,” said Dr. Greves, who is among that group, having had a leaky aortic valve replaced in 2009. “Exceptional, local care saves lives, increases access to critical interventions, encourages prevention, and makes the experience more comfortable for patients.”
People growth accompanied equipment growth. Seventeen Vancouver Clinic cardiologists and clinicians now serve patients.
“When you’re doing work in life and death situations, having partners who are rocks at your elbow makes a huge difference,” he said.
Putting patients first
The growth and advancements Dr. Greves and his colleagues have championed throughout the years have all been to benefit patients. There are few things he is more passionate about than the doctor-patient relationship.
“When you get that to work right, there’s a chemistry that occurs,” he said. “I look upon the relationship between a doctor and patient as almost sacred. You talk about things you would never talk about to other people. That’s big deal.”
Attentive, congenial, focused, and knowledgeable. Dr. Greves is all these things, and he uses these attributes to help each patient feel comfortable, informed, and cared for.
“When I see a patient, I always try and bring something that’s a little special to them,” he said.
With four decades of experience to his name, Dr. Greves knows how quickly the future becomes now. He gets particular satisfaction out of using education to see how healthy he can help patients be five years down the road. For some patients, simple things like walking or controlling their salt intake can make a difference. Other patients need to be educated on how to protect their heart blood flow or bypass grafts.
Taking the time to walk people through the information they need to take care of their health, and to explain how good medical therapy fits into the equation, can make a tremendous difference, Dr. Greves said.
Planning for retirement
Dr. Greves is so passionate about how doctors can build relationships with patients that he planned on making it one of his projects in retirement. At 72, he ended his clinical care in July 2018. However, he continues to partner with Vancouver Clinic and PHSW on the patient experience by mentoring new doctors and clinicians. He also continues his volunteer work, which over the years has included supporting FISH of Vancouver, Heritage Farm, the American Heart Association, and PHSW Foundation Board.
While Dr. Greves has been part-time since 2013, he hopes that a real retirement will give him more time to fish, cycle, travel with his wife, and cheer on his six granddaughters at soccer games.
As he reflects on his time at the clinic and his career, Dr. Greves’ overwhelming feeling is one of gratitude.
“I’m very proud of Vancouver Clinic’s brand and what it means to the community. We’ve led or been a part of all that’s good in medical delivery,” he said. “I’ve been a very lucky man.”