Take heart: A conversation with Sanul Corrielus ’98M (MD)
Take heart: A conversation with Sanul Corrielus ’98M (MD)
Sanul Corrielus ’98M (MD) grew up in Haiti, one of nine children. When he was three years old, his father took a job in the U.S. that would allow him to better provide for his family. Throughout his childhood, Corrielus spoke with his father often, and he dreamed of reuniting with him by phone, someday.
Until then, Corrielus worked hard—it was the family’s way of life. They had a farm and raised what they needed to live: yams, yucca, plantains, sweet potatoes, and more. In high school, Corrielus used money he made from tutoring to open a chicken business. He sold eggs and meat to help his family get by.
When Corrielus was 17, he moved to Brooklyn. That’s when his dream came true, and he reunited with his father. He was elated. Corrielus finished his last year of high school and then began his first year at Brooklyn College. That’s when his dream fell apart.
“I watched heart disease consume my father,” says Corrielus. “I vividly recall how little he knew about his condition. It was as though he was fighting in a war without any basic understanding how to defend himself.” At night, Corrielus said his father would sleep in a chair. His legs were so swollen, and he could not breathe lying down, a consequence of congestive heart failure. His father died within that first year of their reunion.
“Looking back on my formative years, it feels like I was being trained for war,” he says. “It’s just that I didn’t know that the war I’d be fighting would be against heart disease.” Losing his father launched Corrielus on his quest to become a cardiologist. His wish: to empower people with the knowledge and tools to take care of their heart health.
Today, Corrielus runs Corrielus Cardiology in Philadelphia, where he has lived for 23 years. He is also the CEO for Suave Concierge, a personalized medical service that provides a customized experience to help prevent heart disease. In addition, Corrielus founded the Community Cardiovascular Initiative (CCI), a program that partners with community agencies, churches, and organizations such as Centers for Disease Control and the American Heart Association to educate underserved community members about good heart health.
Corrielus serves as a regional program committee leader, too, with the University’s Black Alumni Network. “Dr. Corrielus truly has a heart of gold,” says Karen Chance Mercurius, associate vice president of Alumni and Constituent Relations. “His passion for educating and uplifting others is inspiring, which helps people—his patients, community members, and our alumni and friends—live longer, happier, and healthier lives.”
Here, Corrielus talks about important moments in his life and his approach to medicine.
I learned about the School of Medicine and Dentistry when I was an undergraduate. I knew I wanted to go there. So much so that, as an eager, young sophomore, I applied. It’s no surprise, but I didn’t get in then. I was encouraged to reapply later. I did and, that next time, I got in.
Rochester prepared me to practice medicine in a way that’s fulfilling. The medical school founded the biopsychosocial approach and taught us, as medical students, that the relationships we have with our patients—our fellow community members and neighbors—is of paramount importance. This approach has become the cornerstone of my practice. It underscored the importance of getting to know my patience and understanding how they live and what’s important to them. This helps me connect with them and provide the best health care I can.
Who are your heroes?
Besides my father, my 93-year-old mother is another hero of mine. She taught me so much about perseverance and resilience. Then there’s Dr. Timothy Benson. He was my medical school roommate, classmate, and friend. Tim died two years ago. Before he passed, he wrote me a note on the back of his business card that I will never forget: “To my brother, to succeed greatly, you must serve profoundly.” Tim got it. He was a good doctor and the kind of human being that inspires others to be all they can be.
How has COVID-19 affected the ways you engage with the community?
The biopsychosocial approach is more important than ever, especially now with COVID-19. We see so many people resistant to vaccination. In the medical community, we must ask ourselves why and what we can do to help break down that resistance. For me, that means building trust with people. It also means delivering information to them in ways—and in places—that resonate with them. Right now, too many people are turning to the Internet and they are getting a lot of misinformation.
What are some programs that are working well?
Through the Community Cardiovascular Initiative (CCI) we run programs such as Walk with a Doc, Shop with a Doc, and a variety of “meducation” community education activities that focus on self-care and deliver cardiovascular screenings. For instance, we work with faith-based leaders through our “MEDevangelism” program. We also are looking to engage alumni from the National Football League to help with some of our programs. Community members love interacting with them. Those who are influential in the community are in an ideal position to help deliver informed health-related messaging that will help improve people’s lives.
What do you think is the biggest barrier to good heart health?
Access is the biggest issue. Yes, many people have doctors and insurance. My father had both, but he didn’t know how to manage his disease. He didn’t have the right kind of access—he didn’t have information delivered to him in ways that would really inform him how to take better action. When his legs got so swollen he couldn’t walk, he listened to a friend—not a doctor—who told him to put leeches on his legs to reduce the swelling. Remember that the biopsychosocial approach is key. If you know your patients, genuinely care about them, and they trust you, then they are all in. They don’t have to look elsewhere.
What’s a typical day look like for you?
I try not to be rigid in my daily activities. When things are too rigid, they break. Discipline though, that’s another story. That’s important. So is flexibility and being open to what the day will bring. When I wake up, I focus on gratitude, which brings me back to what I am most passionate about in my life—taking care of my family and my community. I pray and I meditate, and I scan my body to check in and to see what postures and attitudes I should adjust to have more grace in my life.
I meditate throughout the day, too—in my office, when I walk my dog, when I am driving my car. We ALL can meditate, practice mindfulness, and pay attention throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be a long or formal seated practice. At the end of the day, I repeat these practices before going to sleep.
What inspired you to write a book? Why the title?
My book, Healing the Spartan, just published. It providers a breakthrough plan to heart health and longevity. In it, I delve into how we all have a gift, a mission, and a purpose in life. Often, we put all we have into achieving our goals and daily tasks, but we do so at the detriment of our health. To me, Spartans are people who help us, put others before themselves, and focus on the betterment of humanity. The book explores the importance of mind, body, and spirit balance to achieve our best, healthiest selves while serving others.
What’s one piece of health advice you have for people?
Start your day by writing a list of the things you are grateful for. Do that daily and it will change your life. Share your practice with people, too. The health benefits are immeasurable.
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Learn more about the University’s Black Alumni Network. Get involved, too—we welcome you. Help us foster a network for personal and professional connection and provide a sense of community and family for alumni of color.
— Kristine Kappel Thompson, September 2021