Top Docs - The Soul Man

Better health begins with empowering the patient

Dr. Robert L. Haynie believes in the medical powers of spaghetti - at least when it's prepared with his special tomato and ground turkey sauce.

The recipe is just one of the healthy selections from "A Touch of Soul," a cookbook created by nurses and dieticians for his inner-city patients.

Rather than recommend foods that his patients weren't likely to eat, Haynie serves up the ethnocentric cookbook and its culturally familiar ingredients. (Haynie also recommends the macaroni and cheese.)

"These people aren't about to start eating broiled chicken and steamed vegetables," he says. "We wanted to provide realistic, available foods and tasty ways to cook them."
An internist, he specializes in obesity and hypertension, and lectures around the country to other physicians.

He speaks quickly, with an underlying curiosity and ready laughter, always tuned into other people's lifestyles, families and interests. "My first role is to listen to my patients," he says.
As associate dean for student affairs and associate clinical professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, he stresses that lesson to medical students. "Patients are not to be viewed as organ systems," says Haynie, M.D., Ph.D. "These patients are people's mothers, husbands, sisters and friends. Their lives may be in disarray, but it's my job to remind them that they have the power to influence their own health."

As a medical resident in the 1970s, Haynie noticed several underlying themes in cardiovascular disease, the No. 1 killer of all people. He dubbed the syndrome "Haynie's Deadly Quartet": the obese, hypertensive, cigarette-smoking diabetic.

"These four health-care issues are huge," says Haynie. "I want people to know they can make lifestyle choices to prevent or at least lessen their propensity to be obese or have high blood pressure or develop lung disease."

He emphatically urges people to stop using tobacco, attain and keep an ideal body weight, eliminate alcohol and buckle seat belts.

Haynie, a father of seven, saw firsthand what smoking can do to a family. His father, a machine-shop laborer and three-pack-a-day smoker, died of lung cancer at age 44. "I grew up thinking cigarettes were 'James Dean' cool," he says. Then he learned about the connection between tobacco and lung disease. "I wondered if my life would have been different had my dad not smoked."

As a doctor, he helps people take charge of their health.

"My favorite quote of his is, 'There's no big me and little you,' " says Victor Vertes, professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University. "He tells that to new groups of interns. And he lives it. He believes everyone is equal and treats them that way. He's a remarkable man."

Haynie tells the story of an openly hostile patient at Mt. Sinai. None of the doctors or nurses wanted to be near her, so when Haynie arrived for his shift, the staff asked him to see her - a task he didn't eagerly anticipate. When he did, the woman was difficult and wanted nothing to do with him. But just as he was prepared to leave, "she noticed a photo button of my two youngest kids I was wearing on my white coat," he recalls. "She stopped complaining and asked me about them. And everything changed."

He was able to bond with her as a parent and learn about her children and family, "Because I opened up to her as a human, she let down her defenses," he says. "Good doctors relate to their patients as humans first; then as doctors."

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