Meet a cardiologist who’s found success in treating heart disease and helping patients to live heart-healthy lifestyles.
Dr. Agnieszka Silbert had an inkling that she might become a physician when she began administering shots to her dolls at age 6. But it was two serious cardiac episodes experienced by loved ones that steered her toward cardiology.
Born in Poland, Silbert was just 8 when her 70-year-old grandfather died from a heart attack. “He had been suffering with angina for years, and at that time, there was nothing that could be done,” she says. “Later, when I became a doctor, I realized it could have been prevented if treated adequately.”
Years later, her mother nearly suffered the same fate. That’s when Silbert realized she had a family history of heart disease, and decided her calling was to help others dealing with the same issues.
“It definitely hit home,” she says. “My grandfather died and my mother suffered a scare, so I had an obligation to get involved, if I wanted to stay alive to help others.” Silbert’s mother is now 80 and healthy, thanks to regular exercise and a modified diet.
Silbert is the owner of Advanced Preventative Cardiology, 650 Spring Hill Ring Road, West Dundee, and medical director of the Women’s Heart Center at Presence Saint Joseph Hospital in Elgin. She opened her own private practice in 2011, to better connect with patients.
Silbert is a non-invasive cardiologist who specializes in cardiac diseases of women, and diagnostic and preventative cardiology. She is board certified in cardiovascular diseases, internal medicine, echocardiography, geriatric medicine and nuclear cardiology. Her focus is on early detection and treatment of risk factors, to help to reduce the need for surgery and invasive procedures.
“I wanted to practice medicine with people who shared the same mindset and philosophy,” Silbert says. “It also allowed me to spend unrestricted time with patients. A strong component of my practice is education and lifestyle management, something that you can’t always achieve in a regular practice.”
In her native Poland, students are encouraged to declare a career interest as early as high school. Silbert was still on the path to becoming a doctor, but got cold feet and instead began to consider a career in computer programming or linguistics. Then one day, when she was driving to school with her father, she again had a change of heart. “I said, ‘Dad, I just have to be a doctor.’”
After graduating from the Medical University of Warsaw, Poland, Silbert moved on to England for additional coursework, before coming to Chicago to do a three-month externship. She completed her residency in internal medicine at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, and earned her cardiology fellowship at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. Silbert is a Fellow in the American College of Cardiology.
Aside from a family vacation in Hawaii, moving to Chicago was Silbert’s first experience in the U.S. “I felt like I belonged here,” she says. “I met several people from all over the world – India, Pakistan, Russia and Korea. I was part of a melting pot. I thought I could live here and blend in well.”
Fluent in English, Polish and Russian, Silbert also appreciated the advanced medical care in the U.S., something she says was lacking in her native country. “In Poland, I saw patients dying because they couldn’t wait for needed testing,” she says. “Here, everything I needed was available. It was amazing. I felt empowered.”
That sense of empowerment ultimately led Silbert to open her own practice. Still, it wasn’t easy getting the business up and running. There was a tremendous learning curve, especially after working for health care systems for a decade.
“I always had someone to handle administration duties for me,” she says. “In medical school, we don’t study the business aspect of owning a practice. I had to learn on the spot about how to divide my time between managing issues and seeing patients. It’s been an adjustment, but I’m getting better.”
Advanced Preventative Cardiology has five full-time employees. Nurses serve as life coaches, helping to devise 12-week diet and exercise plans for patients. Care coordinators help patients to schedule the many appointments they have, including those with other medical providers.
“We are bending over backwards to meet our patients’ needs,” says Silbert, who shares her cell phone number with patients. “Older patients don’t always know how to navigate the medical system. I feel like we’re helping them to gain better control of their care, and I feel like they’re adhering to my advice.”
Silbert works closely with her patients’ primary care physicians, to create an individualized care plan. “I have a global view of the patient, which helps me to arrive at the appropriate treatment plan,” she says. “We emphasize a personalized experience.”
Last January, while on vacation in Hawaii, Yolanta Hadden experienced disturbing symptoms that included fatigue, sweating and difficulty sleeping. After returning home, Hadden learned of Silbert and Advanced Preventative Cardiology from someone in a women’s heart support group she was attending. She made an appointment. Through a battery of tests, Silbert discovered that Hadden was suffering from atrial fibrillation – an irregular heartbeat – and took the necessary steps to help her patient to recover.
“I feel like a newborn,” says Hadden, who continues to follow up with Silbert. “She was very professional, caring and willing to help me find a solution to my problem. I can’t say enough about Dr. Silbert.”
While Silbert treats both men and women in her practice, she emphasizes the need for women in particular to pay attention to symptoms of heart disease, the leading cause of death among women. According to the American Heart Association, a woman in the U.S. dies of a form of cardiovascular disease every minute.
“Women usually experience symptoms when they are older, when their disease is more advanced or when they have some other type of disease,” Silbert says. “In addition, women don’t always respond as well to treatment as men. Women are more likely to have complications from bypass surgery and more side effects from medicine.”
Regardless of gender, heart disease must be fought with healthy lifestyle choices. “What’s happening is that we’re becoming overweight and obese due to poor eating habits and lack of exercise, which leads to coronary heart disease, hypertension and disability,” Silbert says. “When patients break the chain of eating sugars and processed foods, and begin eating the proper nutrients, they require less medication and fewer visits to the doctor. They feel like they are curing themselves.
“The hardest thing in cardiology is to help someone feel better. Exercise and healthy eating is the right path to healing. My goal is to improve my patients’ quality of life, stabilize their condition and help them address the fundamental and root causes of their heart disease.”
In order to reach the masses, community outreach is vital. Silbert, who’s married with two young children, helps to facilitate monthly educational and support groups at Saint Joseph Hospital. Soon, she will begin an educational program geared toward Spanish-speaking women. For her community efforts, Silbert was honored last year by the American Heart Association.
While Silbert once questioned her pursuit of becoming a doctor, she doesn’t anymore. She can’t imagine doing anything else. “I enjoy what I do,” Silbert says. “It gives me a greater purpose. I do something that makes a difference.”