By Jillian McGehee | Photography by Sara Reeves
As the honoree at this year’s Heart Ball, Dr. Thomas D. Conley – a.k.a. “Tom” or “Doc” to his children and friends – celebrates the heart-healthy initiatives that every Arkansan can make to “Ignite Action” in their own lives. The annual gala benefits the Central Arkansas American Heart Association and showcases the Sweetheart presentation. The Central Arkansas Sweethearts are high school sophomores who complete the comprehensive program that develops civic leadership and heart health advocacy. Thomas, a longtime Little Rock resident, is the immediate past president of the association’s Board of Directors, and his daughter, Kathleen, is a past Sweetheart.
We caught up with the busy cardiologist for some heart-healthy scoop.
Why medicine? “I loved science and attended a fantastic liberal arts college (Hendrix) and wanted to pursue a career that could incorporate both science and humanity – medicine does that. If it hadn’t been medicine, I would have been a college professor.”
Why cardiology? “My junior and senior years in college, I worked as an Emergency Room orderly in Morrilton. There were a number of young doctors who took time to teach me, for which I’m eternally grateful. As part of that informal instruction, I found myself increasingly drawn to the heart. It’s such an amazing organ – beating, nonstop, 24/7/365. No diesel engine can do that.”
Why the American Heart Association? “The mission: education, advocacy and research. Educating society on heart disease – its causes, its treatment and its prevention – is critical. Advocating social change to implement those goals is the practical application of that education. And funding research is what allows us to understand heart disease and its causes and to help develop groundbreaking treatments. In doing so, we can educate with certainty and advocate with passion.”
Why is AHA work important? “Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death and disability in the United States, for both men and women. The American Heart Association helps physicians like me because every day patients become more engaged, more knowledgeable, more informed and more highly motivated with information available online. The association provides an immense resource for the engaged patient to have those conversations and to make good choices.”
SHORT & SWEET
Favorite Heart-Healthy Meal – grilled fish (halibut > salmon) and vegetables
Favorite Activity – turkey hunting
No. 1 Heart Health Advice – don’t smoke
Something Surprising – “I play tenor saxophone in a band that plays in the prison ministry through our church, Asbury United Methodist Church.”