Health awareness

Heart failure: A physician’s perspective

Driven to make a difference — by Dr. Joerg Koglin, senior vice president and head of general medicine, global clinical development, Merck Research Laboratories

April 5, 2023

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According to the American Heart Association, 127.9 million adults in the U.S. — nearly half of all U.S. adults — have some type of cardiovascular disease. And the implications can be very serious. In fact, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming approximately 928,741 lives each year (based on 2020 estimates). There are many types of cardiovascular diseases, one of which is heart failure. Heart failure is when the heart cannot pump properly so that it doesn’t fully support the body’s need for oxygen and blood. And that is where my specialty and passion lie. As a cardiologist, I learned and study how cardiovascular diseases develop to try to find ways to help manage conditions that impact so many people around the world.

For years, I worked in one of the largest European academic centers focused on heart failure and cared for patients with this chronic, progressive condition. I saw how this disease affected my patients’ lives and what it meant to live with its symptoms: swollen feet, legs and ankles; shortness of breath; persistent coughing; and fatigue.

After many years as a physician treating individual patients in a heart failure clinic, I joined the Merck research team to try and impact patient care at a larger scale, but I still carry my patients’ stories with me. I remember the father trying to keep up with his kids, losing his breath just climbing the bleachers at a game. The husband who was waiting on the heart transplant list, but ran out of time. My patients’ struggles with heart failure and the impact it had on their families is what drives my desire to make a difference. They are a big part of why I’m at Merck today, working with a team of world-class scientists to try to advance heart failure research and impact treatment guidelines.

Our focus is on trying to help people with heart failure, which impacts more than six million Americans — a number that is expected to grow to nearly eight million by 2030. We’re working with a sense of urgency because the prognosis for people with heart failure is poor.

While heart failure is a challenging disease, I’m hopeful about the future of research. More than 60 years ago, my colleagues at Merck delivered their first advance in cardiovascular disease and, today, we’ll keep pushing heart failure research forward.

While science pushes forward, it’s important for all of us to take steps today to protect our heart by living as healthy a lifestyle as possible. The advice I try to follow myself is all about creating healthy habits: eating healthy food, which means more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed foods; maintaining a healthy weight; getting regular exercise and not smoking. With the busy and hectic lifestyles many of us lead, it can be hard to fit it all in every day, but every little bit counts. I’ve found that in life as in science, small steps, coupled with persistence and dedication, can help make a difference.