Dr. Sanjay Maniar has a childhood memory of visiting his father in the hospital and being awestruck by the team of people who were taking care of his dad following an unexpected and urgent heart bypass surgery.
Dr. Maniar was only 9 years old when his dad fell ill, went to the doctor for a check-up and discovered that he had blockages in nearly every blood vessel leading to his heart. His situation was so dire that his medical team refused to let him return home and instead, rushed him to a nearby hospital for surgery.
Dr. Maniar remembers leaving a karate tournament to head to the hospital where he saw his father lying in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) surrounded by cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons and nurses devoting their attention to helping him heal.
It was a powerful moment, and one that would ultimately reshape the trajectory of Dr. Maniar’s life.
“Seeing how awesome his care team was and the steps they were taking to help him recover, that’s what sparked my initial interest in medicine,” he said.
Today, Dr. Maniar is a cardiovascular specialist with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Southwest Cardiology and Medical Director of Cardiovascular Imaging & Cardiac Rehabilitation at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, dedicated to caring for his patients like his father.
Growing up with a dad who had been diagnosed with heart disease at age 45, and knowing that he also faced a higher risk of developing the same condition, Dr. Maniar has committed his professional life to raising awareness about the perils of heart disease and empowering families to make healthier lifestyle choices that lessen their risk.
“Being a physician means being an advocate for something,” Dr. Maniar said. “And I feel strongly about doing whatever I can to stop the No. 1 cause of death in the world. Ninety two million people die every year from heart disease, including 800,000 in the U.S. alone. That’s 2,220 deaths per day. One death every 40 seconds. Think about it: In the time it takes you to watch a single sitcom, 45 people die from heart disease. That’s nine basketball teams.”
To help stop this deadly epidemic, Dr. Maniar has become a vocal supporter of the American Heart Association’s campaign urging people to know their numbers – blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol levels – in order to better manage their risks for heart disease.
“It’s really important for people to take charge of their own health,” he said.
For Dr. Maniar, his family history of heart disease prompted him to embrace healthy lifestyle choices at a young age. As a young man, he played soccer and tennis to stay active. He later picked up running when he was in medical school, working his way up from weekend 5Ks to half marathons. He acknowledged that it can be challenging for many adults to squeeze physical fitness into their daily routines, but said it’s vitally important for heart health to find time for exercise.
“You can always find an excuse not to exercise – whether that’s work, school, kids or just the stresses of life – but the key is to making your health a priority,” he said. “The sooner you can do that, the sooner you can build healthy habits, and the better off your heart will be in the long run. The thing with heart disease is: It doesn’t develop overnight. The habits you develop in your 20s, 30s and 40s can ultimately influence how healthy you are in your 50s, 60s and 70s.”
Not every heart-healthy decision has to be as time-consuming as training for a half marathon. Some choices can be as simple as swapping fried chicken for grilled chicken breast or boxing up half your meal at a restaurant and saving it for later.
“It’s really the decisions you make day to day that help you out in the long run,” he said.
Adopting healthy habits can be beneficial at any age, even for people who have already been diagnosed with heart disease. Dr. Maniar said he has been inspired by his dad, who has been able to keep his heart disease in check over the years by following his medication regimen and adopting a more active lifestyle by regularly going to the gym and taking up water aerobics.
“He’s really stepped up his game, and I’m so proud of how active he’s become,” Dr. Maniar said. “With some patients, I end up being a life coach almost because they’ve gotten so used to doing things a certain way that they feel like they can’t change. I’m here to motivate them and let them know that even by making small changes, they can shed weight and even get off some, or even all, of their medications!”
Witnessing his patients make progress makes Dr. Maniar’s career rewarding, he said. He finds fulfillment in knowing that he’s helping improve the quality of people’s lives.
“This is why I get up in the morning, to go out and do my best to help the people of Houston live long and healthy lives so that they can be around to see their parents grow older and see their kids go to college,” he said. “Because sometimes improving your health and wellness isn’t just about you – it’s also for the people who matter to you and who care about you.”
Concerned about your heart health? Memorial Hermann Medical Group has a team of experienced cardiologists who are trained in prevention and intervention techniques that minimize patients’ risks for heart attack and stroke. Find a Memorial Hermann Medical Group cardiologist near you.