Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, making the lifesaving work of a cardiologist essential. And, if you live in Statesville, you probably recognize this familiar cardiologist. A staple in the community, this doctor has dedicated the majority of his life to treating and diagnosing heart disease.
Since 1980, Dr. James Bradford has treated cardiovascular diseases and conditions, doing all he could to ensure the health and wellbeing of Iredell County residents. After 42 years of faithfully serving the cardiac care needs of his patients in his own home community, Bradford is retiring.
Throughout his time as a cardiologist, Bradford treated patients with a variety of cardiac diseases and conditions, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, and several vascular diseases, to name a few.
And though he is extremely passionate about cardiology now, as a child and young adult, Bradford did not know what his true calling was.
While he was in college, he came upon an automobile accident and found the critically injured person to be his friend. He rode with his friend in an ambulance to the hospital and remembered being interested in what was happening. Even after that experience, he did not put much thought into his interests until late in college.
As he was about to finish college, he reflected back on this experience in the ambulance with his friend.
“I thought then, that’s what I want to do. I want to go into healthcare,” he said.
Bradford was accepted into Wake Forest University School of Medicine and found he was particularly drawn to cardiology.
“I thought cardiology was fascinating and so many people were affected by heart disease. There was hardly anyone who didn’t have someone with heart disease in their family. It also looked like a great field to be involved in because there were tremendous advances in diagnosis and treatment,” said Bradford.
During this time, Bradford saw significant developments in the cardiology field, including advances in cardiac catheterization techniques, improved medications, and an understanding of what causes myocardial infarction.
In addition to the prevalence of heart disease and the advancements in cardiovascular knowledge, Bradford found himself drawn to professors who were cardiologists, which only further influenced him to pursue this specialty.
After medical school, Bradford began his residency at North Carolina Baptist Hospital (now Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center), where he met Ruby Grimm.
“I was one of 18 interns, and there was this one girl who was sitting on the carpet of this room while they were asking questions, and she had all the answers. I didn’t know who she was at that point, but she would eventually be my wife,” said Bradford.
After residency, Bradford completed his fellowship in cardiology. At that time, in 1980, Statesville needed an oncologist, so Bradford came home to Iredell County with his wife, Dr. Grimm, a hematologist and oncologist. They set up practices in Statesville.
Initially, Bradford came to Statesville as an independent practitioner, as most doctors were then. This means they were not an employee of a larger organization but had their own practice.
As a cardiologist, Bradford served the community by practicing in the clinic and treating his patients at Iredell Memorial Hospital, which was only a short distance from his clinic.
During this time, he would visit his patients at Iredell Memorial in the morning, work in the clinic during the day, and return to the hospital in the evening. In later years, as Iredell Memorial began to utilize hospitalists, physicians began to share in the care of hospitalized patients. But, that is not the only thing that changed in Bradford’s four decades as a cardiologist.
“The advancements of technology, understanding of diseases, and treatment of diseases have revolutionized since I’ve been in practice. You can’t even begin to compare the difference between cardiac care then and what it is now,” said Bradford.
In addition, as being an independent practitioner got more complex and insurance companies became more powerful, it became harder for doctors to practice on their own. Eventually, in 2011, Iredell Health System bought Bradford’s clinic, Statesville Cardiovascular Clinic, and Bradford became part of the Iredell Physician Network.
Despite the many things that have changed in healthcare since 1980, Bradford explains some key elements have stayed the same.
“No matter whether you’re in the office or the hospital, my relationship with patients has not changed. I think that’s the beauty of practicing medicine,” he said.
Although he is quick to credit others, Bradford’s outstanding relationship with patients is evident in the community. He is even known to make lifesaving house calls for patients in need.
Bradford also described a time in the ‘80s when he traveled with a patient to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland so the patient could receive a heart transplant, a surgery that was not yet available around Iredell County. Bradford was able to be in the operating room with the surgeon and patient to see the entire case and discuss the procedure with the surgeon.
Throughout his time with Iredell Health System, Bradford has been a part of several committees and has served as the Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and President of Medical Staff.
When asked what he is most proud of during his time at Iredell, Bradford explains he is more fortunate than proud.
“When you put an MD beside your name, you’re proud of it. Your family is proud of it. But, when you practice medicine, it’s not pride — it’s humbling. I believe the word for it is fortunate. I am so fortunate to be able to do what I do,” he said.
In his 42 years as a cardiologist, Bradford found applying what he’s learned to helping people most rewarding.
“Being able to help a patient is rewarding, even if it’s something routine like controlling blood pressure or improving preventive health, or something major, like treating heart attack or cardiac arrest. When you learn something, apply it to a patient’s care, and it comes out positive and successful, it’s thrilling,” he said.
And as he prepares for retirement, he says he will most miss the people around him.
“I’ll miss my patients, some are like family members to me, and I’ll also miss the excellent people I’ve worked with,” said Bradford.
During his retirement, Bradford hopes to spend more time with his family and grandchildren. He enjoys working in the yard, reading, studying, golfing, and traveling and hopes to do more of those activities in retirement.
“It has been an honor to take care of my patients. It’s an honor they put their trust in me for their healthcare,” he said.
“I was truly blessed and fortunate to join Dr. Bradford 26 years ago. He has been a great friend and partner, always maintaining a calming influence on the practice. He was always there to lend a hand or an ear when I needed anything,” said Dr. Naim Bouhussein, a cardiologist who practiced with Bradford. “Thank you for all you have done.”