Cardiologist in Tamahere double

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Tamahere cardiologist Dr Martin Stiles’ most high-profile case to date is probably that of Olympic rower and fellow Tamahere resident Rob Waddell.

Waddell’s career was affected by atrial fibrillation, the most common chronic cardiac arrhythmia disorder which affects about one in 100 New Zealanders.

Martin Stiles at work

Stiles’ specialty is electrophysiology, the treatment of heart arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. Stiles, along with Waikato Hospital cardiologist Spencer Heald, assisted Prof Prashanthan Sanders of Adelaide to carry out “keyhole” surgery where virtual simulations of the heart pinpoint areas where small cauterizations change the tiny electrical impulses that determine a heartbeat. Since Stile’s return to Waikato Hospital in 2008, the operation has been done regularly.

“As soon as I arrived, I was up and running,” he says in a Waikato DHB profile. “I was actually handed a folder of difficult cases they thought I might like to have a go at.”

Stiles and wife Christina live on a one-hectare property in Tamahere. Along with the rest of the family, he is excited by the pending arrival of two new cows – the previous bovine occupants belonging to a neighbour having been sent to “the naughty cow farm”, an explanation obviously designed for Isabel, 5 and Liam, 3.

“I doubt there are many places in the world that combine the sort of lifestyle I’ve got with the professional opportunities Waikato Hospital gives,” he says. “I’ve got a friend who works in London and travels 40 minutes by car every morning through traffic. He’s happy with the price he pays but I live on a hectare of land which is 10 minutes by car and 20 minutes by bike from my workplace and at a large tertiary hospital servicing 800,000 people.”

Born and bred in the Waikato, Stiles went to Hillcrest High School and did a medical intermediate year at Waikato University before gaining entry to the University of Otago’s medical school. He spent his first year out of med school as a house officer at Dunedin Hospital before returning to the Waikato where he worked for five years, two of those in advanced cardiology. Watching many of their friends leave on their OE, Martin and Christina left for the UK in 2001, thinking it was unlikely they would return.

They spent two years in Edinburgh, “which was fabulous”, and a year in Leicester before returning to Auckland. But just a few months later they left again, this time for Australia where Stiles completed his PhD, the “Characterisation of the Substrate of Atrial Fibrillation and Flutter”, at the University of Adelaide. The future was bright and Adelaide offered plenty of opportunity, with an already-functioning atrial fibrillation treatment programme and a proven research track record. The potential was there for Stiles to earn “vast amounts of money”. But instead, they came home.

“The question for me was, do I stay in Adelaide or do I come back to Hamilton where I would be setting up my own unit?” he says. “And while I was the eighth or ninth electrophysiologist in Adelaide, a population of around a million, I’m the eighth or ninth electrophysiologist in New Zealand with a population of four million, so it’s easy to see where you are going to make the biggest impact as a physician.”

He is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland and one of his goals for the future is to raise the profile of Waikato Hospital as a centre of excellence in science and medicine.

“When I give talks overseas and say I teach at Auckland, everyone recognises the name and I’d like to see Waikato have that same profile,” he says.

He is doing his bit to achieve it by being involved in international collaborative research including being on the steering committee for a major international study of 11,000 people being run out of Canada and he is off to Paris shortly to advise drug giant Merck on a new Atrial Fibrillation drug. He is also New Zealand’s representative at the Asia Pacific Heart Rhythm Society which holds meetings in different Asian Pacific centres each year.

He was also a nominee for this year’s Kudos Awards. Launched in June 2007, the awards are part of the plan to raise the Waikato region’s profile as a centre of science excellence and innovation, whether the research is being done at Ruakura, AgResearch, Waikato University or Waikato Hospital.

In the meantime, Stiles and family are happy with the decision they made to return to Hamilton.

“Once we made the decision, we decided we would stick with it and so far we’re happy, I can’t see us leaving any time soon.”

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