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Karen Fagan: Advancing Pulmonary Hypertension Care in the Gulf of Mexico

May 2013
Karen A. Fagan, MD

Karen A. Fagan, MD

By Hillel Kuttler

Most clinicians at one time or another encounter a patient who makes the value of their work very clear to them. Karen Fagan, MD, remembers caring for a man suffering from pulmonary hypertension whose last wish was simply witnessing a family milestone.

“He was very sick and he was unlikely to live to see his daughter get married,” recalls Dr. Fagan, chief of the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division and director of the Pulmonary Hypertension Center at the University of South Alabama.

Dr. Fagan started the patient on IV therapy, and two years, he was able to not only watch his daughter marry, but was given another of life’s important gifts. “Now, he’s able to see his grandchildren,” she says. “Patients let you know what’s important to them, and you try to help them achieve those goals.”

Dr. Fagan finds fulfillment in her work, especially because pulmonary hypertension treatment in the Gulf of Mexico region had been scarce before she helped to establish the Pulmonary Hypertension Center after moving to Alabama in 2008 from the University of Colorado Denver.

“It was a nice opportunity for me to come and help get the program up and running and establish a regional presence,” Dr. Fagan says of her move. “It was something that physicians in the area were concerned about, because there was no place to refer patients. Now the program has a big impact on the region.”

That’s vital to patients suffering from a disease with no cure but for whom careful diagnosis and treatment offer great hope, she explains. “It’s a diagnosis that needs to be made after a great deal of consideration because it has tremendous implications for the patients,” she notes. “The abnormal physiology is very intriguing. But most importantly, it’s very rewarding to take care of these patients, because, without the appropriate treatment, many wouldn’t be alive.”

Dr. Fagan conducts basic science research and serves as a senior clinician at the Center for Lung Biology. Her group has developed an animal model to try to understand the causes of pulmonary hypertension and identify more effective treatments for patients. They’ve made great headway in their research, she says, but there’s much more work to be done.

“Dr. Fagan stands out as a nationally and internationally known pulmonary and hypertension clinician and scientist,” says Ivan McMurtry, PhD, senior research scientist at Center for Lung Biology who had worked with Dr. Fagan in Colorado.

Dr. McMurtry’s wife, Sarah Gebb, PhD, an assistant professor in cell biology and neurosciences at University of South Alabama, is also close to Dr. Fagan. “She and I can talk about basic science stuff, and she keeps me on track on the clinical side of things,” Dr. Gebb says.

When not at the bench or bedside, Dr. Fagan raises twin eight-year-old daughters as a single parent. Her retired parents also moved just a few houses away. “My children see their grandparents every single day,” she says, “which is a pretty amazing thing.”

Life in ATS
Member Since:
Primary Assembly: Pulmonary Circulation
Dr. Fagan has served in the Clinicians Advisory Committee and the Pulmonary Circulation Assembly’s executive, nominating, planning, and program committees. Dr. Fagan says she appreciates the ATS’s “bottom-up philosophy” that encourages participation even early in one’s career. “I went to one meeting as a fellow, and now I work on the national level,” she says. “That’s because the ATS was totally welcoming of my enthusiasm to participate.”

Patients let you know what’s important to them, and you try to help them achieve those goals.-Karen Fagan, MD
Last Reviewed: September 2017