Legacy of caring

Longtime cardiologist receives ‘the Oscar’ for Chico doctors

Dr. Peter Magnusson will continue to practice for the foreseeable future, especially if patient Peggy Nay (right) has anything to say about it.

Dr. Peter Magnusson will continue to practice for the foreseeable future, especially if patient Peggy Nay (right) has anything to say about it.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

Enloe Medical Center’s previous Physician Legacy Award recipients:
2015: Patrick Tedford
2014: Jeffrey Lobosky and William Voelker
2013: Samuel Brown and Dale Wilms
2012: David Potter
2011: John Howard
2010: Eugene Cleek
2009: Joseph Matthews
2008: Terrence Fraters
2007: Joseph Chiapella
2006: Jimmy Roberts and Walter Mazen, Sr.
2005: James Wood
2004: Donald Heithecker

When Peggy Nay speaks about Dr. Peter Magnusson, she doesn’t describe him simply as her cardiologist, a fellow cyclist or a friend. He is all those things—but most of all, he’s a lifesaver.

Ten years ago, Nay’s daughter Ruth Cooper noticed a decrease in her mother’s stamina. That’s not overly surprising in a septuagenarian, except that Nay (now 88) began cycling in her 70s and had completed—along with Magnusson—a bike tour across the state of Iowa. Six times.

“The problem became she couldn’t ride her bike uphill as fast as she normally did,” Cooper said.

As a nursing colleague of Magnusson’s wife, Kathryn, at Enloe Medical Center’s cardiac catheterization lab, where he performs procedures, Cooper knew exactly which cardiologist should see her mother. Nay took a stress test on a treadmill—“I put on my running shoes because I was going to wow him!”—but after reviewing the results, Magnusson had both good and bad news.

“He said, ‘You want the bad news first? What’s wrong with you is going to kill you. But I can fix it,’” Nay recalled. “And he did.”

Magnusson, along with a surgeon, installed a pacemaker, which transmits electric signals to keep the heart beating regularly. It’s working well to this day. Her only regret: “They didn’t make [the pacemaker] where it can go faster; there’s only one speed. Ruthie wants to monitor it!”

Injected Cooper: “My brother wants a remote control to turn her down so we can keep up with her.”

Nay said she did not hesitate to undergo the operation because of her faith in her physician.

“It’s nice when you’re going into surgery like that to trust somebody—totally trust him—and know that you’re going to come out because they’re going to care,” she said, “and I don’t think I know anybody who’s more caring than Peter. Not just for me or my family, but for [all] his patients.”

Nay’s experience is not unique; even other doctors admire the way Magnusson provides care. The Enloe medical staff acknowledged that by selecting him as the 2016 recipient of the hospital’s Physician Legacy Award. The honor, announced Jan. 13, “recognizes … exceptional service, leadership and performance in medicine and the community.”

Magnusson referred to the award as “kind of like the Oscar” for Chico doctors, poignant because it comes from peers, and mentioned “the incredible succession of awardees over the past years that have been my idols, my role models.”

The award’s timing has serendipitous significance. Magnusson spent much of 2016 championing the expansion of Enloe’s facilities for cardiology. He and Kathryn volunteer as committee co-chairs for the Enloe Foundation’s Cardiovascular Care Center Campaign.

Dr. Marcia Nelson, Enloe’s vice president of medical affairs, said Magnusson would have merited selection as Physician Legacy Award winner in any year, but “it really is fitting that Pete Magnusson should be getting the award this year, because I think creating this new cardiovascular center at Enloe will be like a capstone to his career. It really will be a permanent, lasting legacy to his work in the North State.”

The $17 million project (see “Room to grow,” Healthlines, Aug. 11) should be completed by 2020. By then, Magnusson will be in his late 70s. He knows Chico, and the region, will need new cardiologists—and new cardiologists need new technology to perform cutting-edge procedures. The facility will accommodate all those components.

“We have to set the stage for the next generation,” Magnusson said.

Exactly when to retire, he said, is “a moving target; Kathryn may know the answer better than I do.” (She did.) Looking to Nay, Magnusson said it would be hard to stop seeing patients “as long as Peggy sits there and says, ‘Don’t you do it!’”

To which Nay declared: “You can’t quit while I’m still breathing.”

Magnusson, 74, came to Chico in 1988 after spending 18 years in Los Angeles, where he’d completed his residency and fellowship. He’s a native of Illinois and graduate of the University of Illinois College of Medicine. One of his numerous cycling treks across Iowa kindled his affinity for Midwest-style college towns like Chico.

He’s “never thought about leaving,” though Kathryn said he’s been “lured a lot” by offers elsewhere. “Plenty of opportunities,” he said, “but this is hard to beat.”

Nelson came a year later to practice family medicine. She’s referred numerous patients to him over the decades and consistently marvels at Magnusson’s ability to summon specific details upon hearing a patient’s name.

“What makes him special is while he’s technically excellent, and while he’s always delivering state-of-the-art care to his patients, he does it in a way that conveys his deep sense of caring about the person who is his patient,” Nelson said. That really makes all the difference in the world in creating a trusting relationship, and that adds to a person’s experience … and helps the patient have a better outcome, because they know that they’re part of his team.”

Medicine has changed dramatically since Magnusson began practicing, and he has adapted accordingly.

“He has continued to look for ways to bring the latest in medical science to this corner of California,” Nelson said. “He seems tireless in his efforts to always improve heart care for this community.”

At his core, however, heart matters most.

“Not in an overt way, I have practiced medicine by taking care of the patient; the technology, advances and medications are just tools,” Magnusson said. “That doesn’t change; the goal in 2017 is the same as the goal that we had when I first started doing all this.”