He’s an ‘electrician’ in the field of cardiology

Dr. Jonas Cooper

By Patricia Corrigan, Special to the Jewish Light

If you missed the local TV interview Dr. Jonas Cooper did in February, you missed learning about his complex medical specialty, you missed seeing him explain the anatomy of a heart using a plastic model and you missed watching him solve a Rubik’s Cube in lightning-fast fashion. 

Get up to speed here with this personable physician. Cooper, 41, was born in Toronto and moved with his family to St. Louis when he was 13. He attended Parkway Central High School, received a medical degree at Washington University School of Medicine and a public health degree from Harvard University. 

Cooper completed his clinical cardiac electrophysiology fellowship at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, was on the faculty at Washington University School of Medicine, and has lectured on and written about electrophysiology. He is a member at Congregation B’nai Amoona.

Cooper made time last week to talk about his work and his life.  

What do you like best about your job? 

Sitting down with my patients, learning their stories and having treatments for them that hopefully will help them. I especially love following up, hearing how their lives change after treatments. 

As an electrophysiologist, your work includes surgical placement and management of pacemakers, defibrillators and cardiac resynchronization devices, and a procedure called ablation, which can correct cardiac arrhythmias. In lay language, what do you do?

Cardiologists handle the plumbing side and I do the electrical side.

Fair enough. Almost everybody knows somebody with atrial fibrillation. Let’s start there. 

AFib is a common irregular heartbeat, and the goal is to try to stop it. AFib has triggers — at one time, the heart was normal and then something triggered extra heartbeats. We seal off where those extra heartbeats tend to be, so there won’t be more triggers. We go to the worst overactive area and silence the extra beats with either heat or cold.

You are one of the first cardiac electrophysiologists in the St. Louis area to offer cardiac cryoablation, a procedure that uses extreme cold to fix AFib and other arrhythmias. What is that?

We used to do the maze procedure, which required opening the chest, and now we use cryoablation instead. We go up the leg with a 3 cm balloon, put it in the heart, inflate it and then freeze the balloon so it cauterizes around the circumference of the blood vessels. 

How did you get interested in cardiology? 

My biggest concern is how to alleviate disease and suffering, and that makes cardiology fascinating and enthralling. In neurology, you can diagnose where a stroke happened, but you can’t do anything about it. In cardiology, you can intervene. 

What about your interest in electrophysiology? 

I like the cerebral, nerdy nature of it. My first training in electrophysiology was in the late 1990s. Since then, everything has changed in terms of procedures and tools and in terms of our ability to understand what we’re doing. 

As a boy, were you interested in science? 

My dad, Dr. Joel Cooper, invented lung transplantation, and that’s what brought us to St. Louis in 1988. I am one of four sons, and walking to shul, our dad always encouraged questions such as why the sky is blue or the grass is green. Sometimes on Sundays, we would do science projects just for fun.

And your mother introduced you to music?

Yes. My mother, Janet, made me start violin lessons when I was 5, like a classic little Jewish boy. I may not have appreciated it then, but now I love it, 

The footage from the TV interview in February proves you are a whiz with a Rubik’s Cube — talk about that. 

It’s a good magic trick. People assume if you can do that, you can do other things, too.

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