It’s Not Just About Treating Patients, It’s Also About Educating The Public To Prevent Stroke” – Dr. Wondwossen Tekle

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Dr. Wondwossen Tekle, endovascular neurologist at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen
Dr. Wondwossen Tekle, endovascular neurologist at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

Mega Doctor News—

Just a few years ago, the medical industry and healthcare services in the Valley were almost stagnant compared with today’s activities. To my knowledge there are several principal reasons as to why the activities in this field have increased in just a few years.


Among the many reasons I will mention just three, first is that the Rio Grande Valley has had a demographic explosion. The need for more healthcare services has become the number one priority for the area.

The second is the fact that entrepreneurs have risked an investment to bring the necessary infrastructure to supply the need.

And third is that all these activities are attracting more specially trained professionals from among the best in the world; such is the case of Dr. Wondwossen Tekle, endovascular neurologist at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, who is now a member of the medical community of the Rio Grande Valley. His specialty is of great importance and benefit for the people of the Valley. Dr. Tekle is one of only two endovascular neurologists in the Rio Grande Valley capable of performing advanced treatments for stroke victims in a specialized bi-plane catheterization laboratory.

Dr. Tekle, along with Dr. Ameer Hassan, also of the Valley Baptist Medical Center, provide 24-hour coverage for patients needing specialized treatment for stroke in Valley Baptist’s two bi-plane neurovascular angiography suites, the only facilities of their type south of San Antonio.  As a result, Valley Baptist has been treating stroke patients who are transferred from other hospitals as far away as Corpus Christi and Rio Grande City.

Dr. Tekle specializes in neurology, stroke/cerebrovascular diseases, neuro-critical care, and neuro intervention. He is now the second specialist of this type in the Valley that has settled in Harlingen, Texas.

Dr. Tekle received his medical degree at Addis Ababa University, a state university in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. He did his residency at George Washington University and completed two fellowships at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Tekle has been a neurologist since 2010. He was a U.S. Peace Corps Medical Officer and worked with UNICEF.

It is important to note that Endovascular intervention can more than double the time window for treatment of strokes, and is an important part of a comprehensive stroke service at Valley Baptist.

What brought you to the Valley? “The reason I came to the Rio Grande Valley is Ameer Hassan, my co-fellow and my immediate senior in training, who came here first to start this program. Dr. Tekle explained, “I heard about the need of the people and the burden of the disease, and I decided to settle in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Dr. Tekle went to one of the best schools in Ethiopia. He also said that he was fortunate enough to go to southern Africa and work for some of the best humanitarian aid agencies, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Médecins Sans Frontières “Doctors Without Borders”, and the United States Peace Corps based in Malawi.

He said, “I was able to come to the United States for continued education, for preliminary internal medicine at Howard University Hospital. I then went on to do my residency at George Washington University Hospital in neurology. After that, I went on to do two sub-specialties back to back at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.”

According to him he first did Vascular Neurology and Neurocritical Care fellowship followed by a second fellowship in Endovascular Surgical Neuroradiology at the University of Minnesota before he came to join Valley Baptist Medical Center in August 2013. He has published his research work at multiple peer reviewed and prestigious medical journals such as Stroke and Cerebrovascular diseases.

“I’m very happy that our program is growing, and we are seeing good patient outcomes. We are working hard to develop and expand relationships with more physicians and other healthcare professionals. We do this in order to introduce the wide range of neurointerventional services, we can provide to help treat the Valley’s patients. More importantly, we are actively involved with stroke awareness campaigns to educate the public about stroke and vascular disease in general.”

As part of Valley Baptist commitment to this community, Dr. Tekle has done many presentations on “Mini-Strokes” or TIAs and interventional treatment of acute ischemic stroke.

Dr. Tekle feels that this subject is possibly among the most important for Valley residents. For some time, strokes and cerebrovascular diseases have predominated the area. A Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) — a temporary interruption of blood flow to part of the brain, spinal cord or retina is commonly called a “mini stroke”.

He went on to explain that the symptoms of a TIA are similar to those of a stroke, but a TIA doesn’t destroy brain cells or cause permanent disability. However, TIAs may recur, and each TIA increases the risk of a subsequent stroke.

Mega Doctor News believes that Free public presentations as those done by Dr. Tekle and Valley Baptist save lives. People who attend learn how important it is to recognize the symptoms of the disease, a disease than can be dangerous.

The medical industry is in a stage of daily technological advances, but what excites a doctor about the technology available for his work?

“It’s very interesting, I would say the sky is the limit in the vascular/interventional neurology field. This field is still in its infancy. It’s grown so much over the last few decades, but it’s not an old science. It has a lot of potential to grow because you can always make things smaller and more efficient as you see in devices, in computers, laptops, and iPods, etc. For example, catheters get smaller and softer, more user friendly, more navigable, technically easier to handle and more adaptable to complex head and neck, brain and spinal cord anatomy.”

“Navigating through the very complex anatomy of the brain and being able to handle more complex diseases of the brain, I would say the sky is the limit. The technology is growing, so that excites me a lot in my field,” he said.

But even with all these technological advances, doctors have challenges. Dr. Tekle says that one of the biggest challenges is time. “Time especially in the context of stroke; I think it’s what I see as challenging is being able to deliver acute stroke care in time for all patients.” He added, “We always fight with time when it comes to treating a stroke, which is very common in the Valley.” He pointed out that there is a high prevalence of vascular diseases here in the Rio Grande Valley, and unfortunately acute stroke treatment is time sensitive. Solid public awareness of stroke symptoms and highly coordinated acute stroke care is necessary to tackle this challenge.

Aside from challenges there are worries; Dr. Tekle’s biggest worry and number one is to see the statistics that younger people are getting severe vascular diseases. “Stroke used to be mainly the disease of the elderly population, but nowadays we see people who are in their 30s and 40s with strokes; that worries me a lot.”

It is important to convey a message to everyone about the importance of controlling all the risk factors for stroke such as obesity, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, that are rampant here in the Valley. “I think that being able to deliver this message to particularly younger people and educating them will change the future course of this disease.”

Dr. Tekle says that he is inspired by his patients to do what he does as a doctor. “When I see my patients improve, see them smiling again and getting back to their daily life, that’s what inspires me and gets me going.”

He also pointed out that the person who inspired him to get into the medical field was his mother Muluemebet. “She is a very caring, extremely dedicated woman who sacrificed a lot to raise and educate us properly. She is a thoughtful and loving person.”

Dr. Tekle says the one who inspires him daily is his wife Fasika Yohannes, a registered nurse. “My beautiful wife is an outstanding woman, she dedicates herself to our family, to raising our kids and taking care of us.”

How did you meet your wife Fasika? “We met back in 2000 when I was in my last year of medical school, and she was a nursing student at that time. She came through my university hospital, and that’s where we met” he said.

According to him, this took place at the Black Lion University Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the main teaching facility. “She was a nursing student rotating through that hospital doing her training, and I was an intern at that point, and we met there. We were introduced to each other and we have been together since then,” he said. How long did it take for you to realize she was going to be your wife? “It was instantaneous, it was love at first sight,” he said.

When they moved to the United States, they did it separately. “Fasika came first and I followed her after because I had to go to southern Africa and work there for almost three years but once I came to the U.S. to join her, we got married in 2005.” He also said, “We both pursued our own field. I continued in my residency specialty, and she became a registered nurse first in California, later in Virginia, and then in Minnesota. She now works as an operating room nurse.” He pointed out that in Ethiopia women keep their maiden name and don’t take their husband’s name, so she is Fasika Yohannes.

Together they have two boys; the older is Biruk, which means blessings and the younger is Tsega, which means grace. The doctor said that both are phenomenal kids. “Biruk is very smart, dedicated and very hardworking. He gets awards for creative writing and so many other activities at school because he is very dynamic.” Do you think that he may follow in your footsteps? “Yes, Absolutely.” Tsega is only 2.

To remedy stress in his active profession, Dr. Tekle said, “I likes to watch movies, and I like to play tennis, and basketball. I like to tour and to hang out with my kids.”

Dr. Tekle participates in civic activities that benefit the community. The doctor, along with the other neurologists at Valley Baptist, participates in recording announcements to educate the people about the importance of calling 911 if their loved one is showing symptoms of a stroke. This is important because the patient can be treated sooner and hopefully they can be able to save the patient’s life or prevent them from being disabled.

He said that for him it’s important to help build competent and excellent neurovascular service in the Valley. “That’s my plan.” His satisfaction in this profession is to see his patients get well and smile.

He said to Mega Doctor News that the uniqueness about his practice is that he and Dr. Ameer Hassan are the only two specialists in this field in the Valley and south of San Antonio. “We are partners. We would like to grow the service, but what’s unique about neurological intervention is that it is new to the Valley. It was started less than two years ago.”

What is most important to you? “That would be my faith in Christ, next would be my family of course.”

How do you want to be remembered? “As someone who lived a life helping others as much as I helped myself,” Dr. Tekle finalized.

Dr. Wondwossen Tekle is now a vital member of the medical community of the Rio Grande Valley. He is one of only two endovascular neurologists in the Rio Grande Valley capable of performing advanced treatments for stroke victims in a specialized bi-plane catheterization laboratory that is why he has been chosen to be our Mega Doctor for June 2014.

CLINICAL FOCUS:

Neuro Interventional Treatment of:

Acute ischemic stroke

Intracranial aneurysms- Pipeline flow-diverter device-Coil embolization

Brain and spinal arteriovenous malformations (AVMs)

Brain and spinal dural arteriovenous fistula

Epistaxis embolization

Tumor embolization- head and neck, intracranial, and spine

Carotid angioplasty and stenting,

Provocative testing

Inferior petrosal sinus sampling- Cushing’s Disease/ syndrome

Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner and the 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Rotary Award recipient. MDN