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Dr. Jacob Bergsland, 52, heart surgeon extraordinaire

Why hearts?

I was 15 in Oslo, Norway, and I had decided to become either a doctor or an engineer. When I was 18, I decided medicine because my girlfriend was in the town that the medical school was. That was the real reason. Of course, when I started in medicine, I was happy. So I did medical school, finished my military service, got married and came over here. This was 1976. I really was focusing on neurosurgery. But then I had a rotation in cardiac surgery and I changed my mind. There's a lot of technical things involved in it. It combines engineering.

Would you describe yourself as a patient man?

My patients should tell me that. I enjoy very much that aspect of it. In medicine today there is a lot of frustration, but the one thing that you cannot take away from a doctor is the pleasure of interfacing with a patient.

But do you have patience?

Oh. I have lots of patience. Some of the surgeries that we do, you need to be very calm and very focused. You need to be patient. On another regard, I guess I can be very impatient when it comes to progress to get something started or to finish a project.

What makes you see red?

It's very seldom that I really get mad. I guess if people in daily life are indifferent, that can make me see red sometime. I think you should have opinions and passion. I'm basically not an angry man.

What exercise maintains your cardiac fitness?

Not enough. Maybe a little skiing. Stairmaster.

How are your feet holding up?

Pretty good. But see? I use support hose and always clogs. You're standing there for eight hours, you tend to get a little swelling in the legs.

What do you do best?

I guess operate. Do heart operations, that's what I do best. Needlepoint.

Now take yourself out of the operating room.

I love to read. I like to write. I tell you, this is big problem for me. I am a workaholic. I was always like that, a perfectionist. I am very much focused on my work. I don't know if I do anything really well outside of work. I started this program in Bosnia, but then it became work. I think I am a very good listener. I listen to people, and I like to think I can inspire people to do something special.

Do you ascribe emotion to the heart?

No. I would ascribe that to the brain.

Would you consider yourself a bleeding heart?

Yes, for humanity, for country. I am a pretty emotional guy. Probably most people say I am not, but I think I am. I may not show it.

When was the last time you were sick?

When I was really sick? Because I'm never sick. Four years ago I had a bleeding ulcer and passed out while I was at work. I thought I was finished. But you know, it happened in nice circumstances, right in the hospital.

Do you have a big ego?

I think it is very common for doctors to project a big ego. I think that behind that, many times, the ego is not that big. I think I'm pretty good. I think I am one of the better ones in my business. I think I'm OK, but I don't think I have a huge ego. I know that I am not perfect, that I am not God.

Is there anything I didn't ask you?

About the cardiac program in Bosnia, because that is something I spent the last five years on. This is absolutely my passion. I went there during the war. It was a very special situation that I had not been exposed to before. War puts good and bad in a much stronger contrast. It engaged me. We made this decision in 1994 that we were going to start this new program. I spent every day thinking about it. The hospital here, Buffalo General, supported me very much. I think it was the biggest thing I did in my life.

-- Jane Kwiatkowski

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