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At the Top of His Lungs

As director of Martin Health System’s cutting-edge Lung Health Center, Dr. Dennis Tishko hopes to catch lung cancer earlier and save countless lives locally.

Some boys dream of being a boat captain or a construction worker, but not Dr. Dennis Tishko. Director of the Martin Health System’s Lung Health Center, Tishko always wanted to be a surgeon.

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, he enjoyed taking things apart, dissecting animals in school and reading everything he could that was remotely related to surgery. When he was 12 years old, he even came up with an idea for an artificial heart and sent the design (drawn in colored pencils and crayons) to a world-renowned cardiac surgeon Michael DeBakey. Dr. DeBakey replied with encouragement and discussion in the field, and Tishko became even more focused.

“I thought that was the greatest thing in the world, for a famous guy to take an interest,” he says. “The minute I could get a hold of something surgical or medical, I really pursued it.”

And that tenacity and passion was necessary for four years of college at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, four years of medical school at University of Cincinnati and Stanford, a seven-year residency in general surgery at Harvard, a two-year cardiothoracic fellowship at the University of Wisconsin and Cleveland Clinic, and one year of research followed by a 20-
year private practice in Columbus, Ohio.

Then, in May, he and his family moved to Stuart to teach medical students from Florida State University, and also to provide expertise at the Martin Health Cancer Center for patients battling disease in their lungs, diaphragm, ribs, chest muscles, esophagus, chest, or heart lining, lymph nodes or blood vessels in the middle of the torso.

But let’s be honest: The vast majority of people he treats with surgery (minimally invasive or otherwise) are battling lung cancer. If you want to really understand Tishko’s passion, learn more about lung cancer.

Lung cancer is overwhelmingly the No. 1 cancer killer in the country. There are more lung cancer victims than those who fall to breast, prostate, colon, ovarian, uterine and skin cancers combined. Lung cancer even kills five times more people than all the traffic deaths in the country, including those involving drunk drivers.

“It is a staggering problem, and it’s astonishing that people don’t know those numbers. It’s almost too much to think about,” he says.

It’s so often fatal because until recently, doctors didn’t have a good screening method for the symptom-free disease. Now, longtime, heavy smokers can have a quick, relatively inexpensive (and free starting next year) CT scan test to determine their risk. They can even schedule an appointment easily by calling 1.844.811.LUNG. The results cut the death rate by 20 percent.

“If caught early, the most common form of lung cancer has a very high rate of survival,” Tishko says. “We can give them back their whole lives.”

Always working with a logical brain to do good and fix things (be them organs or engines), Tishko put himself through school as a carpenter and even built a house. On the weekends, he can be found tinkering away in the garage or out on the water, living a life every boy could dream of.