How do two heart experts plan to spend their Valentine's Day? 

Heart to Heart

Few people understand the needs of the heart better than Dr. Joseph Ornato and Dr. Mary Ann Peberdy. As cardiologists, they're obsessed with what makes it tick. It's a passion that provokes 16-hour days, endless schedule shuffling and 10-minute lunches. It's also the passion that sparked their romance. In April, they celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary. While many couples aim to keep their careers separate, Ornato and Peberdy depend on the crossover. "We rely on each other a lot in the work we do," Ornato says. "I help Mimi, and there's no question she helps me." Between patients and projects, ringing phones and beeping pagers, Ornato, chairman of emergency medicine and co-director of the acute cardiac team at VCU's Medical College of Virginia Hospitals, and Peberdy, assistant professor of internal medicine for MCV's department of cardiology, say they wouldn't have married life any other way. "Most of our friends would never dream of trading places with us," says Ornato, smiling across his desk to Peberdy. From the instant smile he gets in return, it's clear she agrees. They embrace a frenzied lifestyle and somehow make it look easy. Ornato and Peberdy are active in the American Heart Association. They participate in groundbreaking research. They see patients, write books, edit journals and lecture around the world. They hold hearts in their hands. They have no kids, though they do have one doted-on collie, Molly. Medicine gives them their purpose. But, they say, it's love that provides the connective tissue of their personal lives and careers. When Ornato gave a lecture at the Medical College of Pennsylvania where Peberdy was doing research, neither dreamed they'd be married in months. "The whole package attracted me to Joe," recalls Peberdy. On their first date they had lunch at a Philadelphia eatery and then spent the afternoon shopping. "We are shopaholics," says Ornato with a chuckle. "A great day is shopping, shooting pool and good food," Peberdy adds. They're also amateur photographers and have built up a considerable camera collection. In the next few weeks, they'll travel to Singapore, where they both will lecture on their latest project: collecting research on and promoting the use of automated defibrillators. "We have a real passion and interest in resuscitation and starting hearts," says Peberdy. Ornato chairs a national committee for a $16 million project funded by the National Institutes for Health. Peberdy is the principal "investigator" representing Richmond cardiologists. It's impossible to steer these doctors away from shoptalk. They say the media and the public often are misinformed about the way the heart works. Between 250,000 and 333,000 Americans die each year from cardiac arrest — a condition that differs from a heart attack, Ornato says. "It would be like taking an atomic bomb and blowing up every person in Richmond," Ornato says. Peberdy notes: "Despite what we see on TV, people don't usually survive." That's where the defibrillator comes in. If made available in public places — Richmond International Airport has two — and used properly and immediately, the device can save lives. Making tangible research accessible to all people is worth the "physical and emotional investment for what we see as important," Ornato says. It also sheds light on the couple's compatibility. "We have exactly the same values," Ornato says. "For the little guy we'll tackle any opponent." So they keep their schedules booked to capacity. At work, they have busy and demanding separate lives that are made "more bearable than if we had independent careers," says Peberdy. The line between work and play is completely blurred, they say. In fact, says Peberdy, "it's not work, it's a hobby." And, caught in this cycle, they grab lunch when they can. At the hospital recently, says Ornato, "We wolfed down lunch in 90 seconds. Mimi heated up some soup in the microwave, and she had a can of soda open and ready." While on their business trip to Singapore, they hope to "sneak" a few days in Hong Kong to shop and take pictures. "It's our present to ourselves," says Peberdy. "Our biggest conversation over the past few days has been about what cameras to take." But just how will these two doctors, sweethearts, celebrate Valentine's Day? With a lecture, Peberdy says. The subject: how to restart the


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