2017-10-12 / News

For local doc, freedom keeps him running

Florida Avenue man balances hobby with his work as cardiologist

— Joseph Weiss on his work as a cardiologist — Joseph Weiss on his work as a cardiologist After reading “The Iliad” as a sophomore in college, Dr. Joseph Weiss was inspired to run.

That was in the 1970s.

“I started running before there were running shoes,” he said. “I ran in Converse Chuck Taylor All- Stars.”

Since his revelation, thanks to Homer, the Jamestown cardiologist has competed in the Boston Marathon nine times, typically running 15 miles weekly to remain in shape. His running continues Sunday during the Newport Hospital 5K.

“It’s actually a short race for me, but I’m not that fast anymore,” Weiss said. “It’s always fun to do something away from work with the people you work with. I found out that some of my colleagues are very good runners, and I wouldn’t have known that otherwise.”

The 5K is less grueling than the 26-mile marathon he completed in April. It starts at 9 a.m. from the Newport County YMCA in Middletown, snakes through residential neighborhoods on the border with Newport, and then finishes back at the Y.

Since the weather has cooled, Weiss has been training for the race by running his favorite routes in Jamestown, all of which begin from his home on Florida Avenue. He has a route from Beavertail and back that equals 14 miles, although he only has time on the weekends for that trek. There is a shorter course that fits his weekday schedule.

“Every morning I run to Mackerel Cove,” he said. “I have a loop that’s about 4 miles.”

Interest in the heart

Although running has been linked to a healthy heart, Weiss said his occupation has not contributed to his hobby.

He has been running both recreationally and competitively before he entered medicine. Running is healthy, he said, whether the runner understands the heart or not.

“It’s not being interested in the heart that makes you think you should run,” he said.

A native of Rochester N.Y., Weiss worked as a cardiologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Oregon for 12 years before joining the staff at Newport Hospital in 2014, where he has founded a cardiovascular genetics clinic to diagnosis and treat inherited cardiac conditions via genetic testing. Approximately 20 to 40 percent of common heart problems, he said, are inherited.

He also practices at Miriam Hospital and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, and is an associate professor at Brown University’s medical school.

The favorite part of his field, he said, is using logic and reasoning to diagnose his patients. It’s an unknown at the beginning, but once a few variables are solved, the whole equation becomes clear, he said.

“The physiology all makes sense,” he said. “If you gather a certain amount of information, you can generally figure out problems.”

Returning back East

Weiss chose to move crosscountry because he missed the East Coast, where he attended college. He also wanted to be close to his two daughters, both students at Barnard College in New York City. His wife, Georgette Pan, is head of litigation at the IGT office in Providence, a gaming company that produces slot machines.

Weiss received a doctorate in biochemistry from New York University, then attended medical school there, graduating in 1987. He completed a residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University and a cardiovascular fellowship at the University of California at San Francisco before he was hired in Oregon at the turn of the millennium.

Despite his storied career as a physician, Weiss didn’t see medicine in this future during his early college years. His bachelor’s degree, which he received from Yale University in 1975, was in English literature. He continued pursuing that study as a graduate student, but an accident influenced his to switch gears and become a doctor.

Weiss was in the steam room at his gym when he passed out while standing on a bench, injuring his jaw. After he was admitted to the neurosurgery wing of Yale New Haven Hospital, he had an epiphany about his future and decided to change career to medicine.

“It was a near-death experience, and I could have done some serious damage,” he said. “So, it required a reassessment of how I was going to spend my life. I was much more impressed by what they were doing than by what I was doing. It’s never boring. I’ve never regretted choosing cardiology as a specialty.”

Weiss ran his first marathon shortly after he graduated from Yale. “I wasn’t very good,” he said.

Despite his ho-hum debut, Weiss continued running, completing the New York City Marathon twice by the time he was in medical school.

Getting back into running

Although he ran the marathon a third time, running turned into a hobby for Weiss and he stop competing in sanctioned foot races. Following a 20-year hiatus, cardiology colleagues petitioned him to run in a 200-mile relay race in Oregon. He agreed to return to competition.

“I was surprised at how well I did,” he said.

Following that relay, he became reinvigorated to run in marathons.

He ran in the 2008 Portland Marathon and then qualified for the 2009 Boston Marathon. He finished that race in three hours and 27 minutes, and has competed in every Beantown race since. This year, at 63, he finished in just under four hours. He has already qualified for next year’s race, which will mark his 10th appearance. Not many runners can claim double-digit appearances.

“It’s like a club,” he said.

Although he has become a regular fixture at the Boston Marathon, it has now become the only marathon that he regularly runs. He said that he participates in the famous race simply because he enjoys running, not because he wants to win.

“I run every day” he said. “It’s the freedom that I love about running.”

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