The Formation Years

The Heart Institute can be traced back to 1964 when Dr. James Mason established his private practice in downtown St. Petersburg, typical of the THI physicians who followed him. Dr. James Mason immediately assumed a leadership role in the community. He implanted the first pacemaker, performed the first cardioversion and directed the Bayfront Coronary Care Unit. Dr. James Mason also began the tradition of technical excellence carried on by THI by acquiring the first equipment in the St. Petersburg area to perform electrocardiograms and echocardiograms.

In 1978, Dr. James Mason recruited Dr. John Hoche from the faculty of Columbia University in New York to form Cardiology Consultants. Dr. Hoche was previously involved with aerospace medicine during his service in the U.S. Navy. Together, Dr. James Mason and Dr. Hoche developed the first nuclear cardiology program in the St. Petersburg area.

As Cardiology Consultants continued to grow, Dr. Dean Bramlet was recruited from Duke University to add to the nuclear cardiology staff. Dr. Jeffrey Witt came to St. Petersburg that same year, joining Suncoast Medical Clinic, and later became a senior partner of THI. Dr. Dean Bramlet and Dr. Witt introduced balloon angioplasty to the local medical community, forming the first coronary intervention program for St. Petersburg area patients.

THI physicians have always taken the lead on introducing new technologies to our community. In 1989, Dr. Michael McIvor was recruited from Johns Hopkins Hospital because of his expertise in advanced interventions. As Chairman of Adult Cardiology at All Children's Hospital, Dr. Michael McIvor expanded the program beyond balloon procedures to include the new tools of lasers, cutting and extraction atherectomy and new blood thinners to make the procedures safer and more effective. During this time, Cardiology consultants became The Heart Institute of St. Petersburg with Drs. Hoche and McIvor as managing partners.

Dr. Andrew Rosenthal came to the Institute from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991, and Dr. John Walsh from the University of South Florida in 1992, both of whom were added to the interventional team of the Heart Institute. With such a wealth of expertise, THI physicians placed the first stents in the state of Florida.

Dr. Robert Sheppard was recruited in 1995 from the faculty of Hahnemann University in Philadelphia and became the first board- certified electrophysiologist in our medical community, expanding arrhythmia services at THI. Dr. Sheppard developed the electrophysiology laboratory at Bayfront Medical Center. Later, he, Dr. Cassidy, and Dr. Cardona have formed the Arrhythmia Center at Northside Hospital, a regional referral center for complex arrhythmia treatment.

To bolster our cardiac imaging services, Dr. James Post joined the Heart Institute from the University of Pennsylvania. He is deeply involved in patient care at Palms of Pasadena Hospital.

From Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans is Dr. Peter Wassmer. He is involved in the Medical Teaching Program at Northside Hospital, teaching medical students, interns, residents, and cardiology fellows.

Dr. Gregg Schuyler came to us in 2000 from the Medical University of South Carolina where he was involved in basic research in the molecular mechanisms of cardiac hypertrophy. He brings to THI level III echo, nuclear, and research experience. He is the Director of our Echo Lab.

In 2001, we added Dr. Robert Sanchez to the group. He had a successful practice at Northside, Largo, and Suncoast Hospitals. He is director of the Cardiology Fellowship Teaching Program at Northside Hospital, teaching medical students, interns, residents, and cardiology fellows.

In July 2002, Dr. Francisco Cardona joined the group as our second electrophysiologist. He has special interests in ablative therapy.

Dr. Carlos Estevez who has been practicing Cardiology for over 35 years has retired from The Heart Institute as of May 2014. He performed the first coronary angioplasty procedure in St. Petersburg. He has held most all leadership positions in Cardiology in St. Petersburg throughout his long career.

In 2005, the group expanded with the addition of Dr. Alexander Johnson from the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Johnson is a combat veteran from Operation Iraqi Freedom where he participated in critical care air combat missions for the USAF. He practices general cardiology, echo, nuclear, stress testing at our Downtown offie.

By 2007, the needs of the practice required another cardiologist. We were fortunate to acquire Dr. George Blanco, who was born and raised in St. Petersburg and trained at USF. As chief resident, and chief cardiology fellow, he developed an expertise in teaching, which he uses to teach the medical residents and cardiology fellows as well as general cardiology. He is based at our downtown office.

In 2009, a Cardiology Training fellowship program was begun at Northside Hospital, under the guidance of Dr. Robert Sanchez. This is the first Cardiology training program in South Pinellas County.

The practice of Dr. H. Jack Pyhel and Dr. Edward Swanick was winding down as Dr. Swanick was seeking retirement. They both joined the practice in 2010, with Dr. Pyhel continuing to take care of patients at our downtown office, Edward White Hospital, and St. Anthony's Hospital. His 30 years of expertise in St. Petersburg has been an inspiration to us all. In December, 2012, he finally hung up his white coat and is now enjoying his retirement by swimming, biking, wine tasting, and lecturing.

With the expanding electrophysiology needs of the practice, Dr. Dennis Cassidy moved his thriving electrophysiology practice from Tampa to Northside Hospital to help Drs. Sheppard and Cardona build a regional arrhythmia center at Northside Hospital.

In 2012, Dr. Christopher Wilson, one of the first graduates of the Cardiology Fellowship training programs at Northside Hospital, was hired as a non-invasive cardiologist. He sees patients at our Downtown and Northside offices.

From Dr. Mason's solo practice in 1964, the Heart Institute has grown to a comprehensive resource for cardiovascular services with over 50 employees in office locations serving the entire St. Petersburg and surrounding areas. We have remained an organization that continually challenges itself to find new and better ways to treat patients. Through our 35 years, we have achieved a number of milestones for the community.

The Heart Institute looks back with pride on its history of growth and accomplishments. With our specialized programs in prevention, heart failure, interventions and research, we are confident that our patients are experiencing the highest standard of care available for their heart disease. Although we are proud of our accomplishments, we cannot be completely satisfied with what we have done. As an organization that thrives on learning, we embrace the exciting future that lies ahead for medical technology and the Heart Institute.