When Danesh Mazloomdoost, MD, sees the challenges of his high-stress field of pain management medicine as insurmountable, he picks up a camera.
Peering through the lens of his camera gives Dr. Danesh, who minored in photography while at Case Western Reserve University, a more centered focus.
“When I’ve engaged in the arts, I feel like it makes me more acutely aware of the subtle beauty we see every day,” he said. “Connecting with the aesthetics, with the abstract, it allows me to connect with the purpose, the mission of why we’re here.”
Both his parents – mother Camellia Shirazi, MD, and father M. Mazloomdoost, MD – are both physicians practicing in Lexington. They started a multidisciplinary pain clinic when Dr. Danesh was in his pre-teens and spent many of his summers at the clinic. So it would seem natural that he would have followed in their footsteps.
That wasn’t always the case. “I tried my hardest not to!” he admits.
In fact, he majored in medical economics and business management at Case Western, where he had a scholarship and pre-admission to medical school. But he was more interested in health care policy.
“I thought I was going to go into figuring out how we could fix the gaps in health care … the problems of the uninsured and the disparities within health care,” he said.
He was interested, specifically, in operations management – how businesses work together. He saw a correlation to medicine – how the different organ systems keep us alive. So he moved more toward a career in medicine, attending medical school at Johns Hopkins and moving to Cincinnati for internal medicine internship before returning to Johns Hopkins for a residency in anesthesia. But he found he was more interested in the more complex issues of pain, specifically related to cancer, and went to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas for training in pain management.
“I feel like pain is one of those things that everyone will experience, but everyone will experience differently,” he said. “Some people will cope without guidance; some people may need guidance.”
He mentions the adage, “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” His goal is to address some of the suffering that comes with pain and help people grow from it.
“There are so many different interpretations of why people have pain,” he said.
That recently evolved into what Dr. Danesh calls “this quandary of the opioid epidemic” that manifested from misunderstandings about chronic opiate exposure and the mismanagement of pain.
“Pain is the way your body communicates with you … it tells you when things aren’t functioning properly,” he said. It’s like the “check engine” light on an automobile – you can either figure out what is causing the light to come on or you can put a black sticker over it, which is what we do with opiates, he said.
“If we treat (pain) like a symptom, we’ll never fix the problem,” he said. “If we delve into the condition that is causing the pain, we’ve got a really good chance at fixing it.”
Dr. Danesh believes that for a long time, physicians were placating pain in some way, but were not well-versed in the best way to sustainably do so. It was more along the lines of a traditional disease-based model of medicine instead of the healthy and preventive model of medicine.
“We’ve gotten so far removed from the overall person that everybody functions in their own small unrelated niche,” he said. “We have to re-examine how health care is delivered and how we’re approaching pain.”
Dr. Danesh likes being involved in organized medicine through the Kentucky Medical Association and the Lexington Medical Society because it brings physicians out of the niches they’ve carved for themselves.
“The communication I have with clinicians when they deal with patients in pain helps me understand the forest from the trees picture on how the opiate problem is developing and what we can do about it,” he said.
Dr. Danesh is passionate about the treatment of pain and sees Kentucky as a sort of ground zero in dealing with the problem of opioid abuse.
“I view Kentucky as being on the cusp of changing this problem or getting the pendulum to swing in the right direction,” he said. “Now, we have to balance how we treat the patients who are physically dependent without introducing more patients into that pipeline while still trying to address the conditions we have.”
It’s a daunting prospect, but Dr. Danesh said KMA’s Community Connector Leadership Program has helped him gain focus.
“I think in medicine, we’ve gotten so busy and so overwhelmed with things that are not value-added components of health care,” he said. “It does take a conscious effort to reconnect with the things that matter to health care.”
Becoming a Community Connector in 2014, he said, helped him do just that. Beyond the educational aspect of the program, he said, “the biggest aspect is connecting with other physicians who are passionate about something they want to change.”
In fact, he and his fiancé, Andrea Omidy PhD, a psychologist who focuses on disordered eating, recently purchased the former Eagle Creek Library in Lexington with the hopes of building a multi-disciplinary wellness center that seeks to redefine health care.