By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
LACOMBE – Steve Blades has an interesting way to analyze the effect Muscular Dystrophy plays in his life.
“It’s a good thing I make my living with my brain,” the CEO of the Louisiana Heart Hospital said.
Blades goes beyond taking the disease in stride, something he has lived with since being diagnosed in 1980.
“If we are sitting together at a table talking, you would never know I had it,” he said. “So in that respect, I’m fortunate I don’t have something worse.”
“Are there days I wish I could walk normal, or play golf?” he said. “Sure, once in a way, but I still see so many opportunities in my life that I have had, regardless of this.”
Blades is one of the parish leaders getting a little more attention these days as the top man at the Heart Hospital, since the community and the nation is watching anxiously to see how the national Affordable Care Act affects us all.
The 62-year-old has a unique perspective on the national health care industry since he has worked in private and government insurance his entire life, getting his first job out of college with an agency known in 1973 as the Bureau of Health Insurance. Today it is known as Medicare and Medicaid.
“I always remembered my first day on that job,” he said. “I had a woman who was my mentor there and she whispered to me, ‘you are here at the right time because the exciting thing is the government has national health insurance right around the corner!’ That was 40 years ago and now we’re finally getting it.”
Blades recalls his younger days when “we all wanted to go out and change the world. But even today I still believe we all need to do something with our life so we leave the world a better place than the way we found it.”
Blades continued to work for Medicare and Medicaid in Baltimore, Md., then Jacksonville and Atlanta, totaling 11 years and spending a lot of time working fraud and abuse. But he looks back on those years and became frustrated with his inability to truly make a difference in the world around him, a goal in life that showed in high school when he left home during his senior year to join “Up with Life,” a national organization.
“After 11 years I had gotten an interest in health care, but found that the government is not a place for people who want to change much. I truly learned what the word ‘bureaucracy’ means and even though you can do some things, you get buried by the layers of being in government,” he explained.
He got his first job in the public section in 1984 when he headed the Department of Family Medicine at East Carolina University, then spent the last 21 years serving as CEO, Executive Vice President or President of several cardiovascular groups, clinics and eventually, the Louisiana Heart Hospital.
Leading the way into the private business world in 1984, he was a founding member of the Cardiology Leadership Alliance, an organization representing 28 major cardiology practices across the nation.
Throughout his professional career, Blades has always been active with non-profits and fundraisers, starting his own Triangle Jazz Party in Greenville, NC as a benefit event that he continued to hold in different cities for 10 years—simply as a way to do something for his community.
“It’s the right thing to do for us to help in our own community,” he said. “The jazz party was something I enjoyed doing and once I was diagnosed with M.S., I thought it would be a good fundraiser for M.S. research.”
Blades said he learned about the disease in 1980 when he realized he didn’t have any feeling in a spot on his back, then while taking a shower, realized his couldn’t feel the heat or water pressure on one side of his body. When he woke up three days later and “my legs felt like spaghetti, I knew I better see a doctor,” he said.
At the age of 29, he was faced with living his life with a disease there is no cure for.
“My reaction? There are a lot worse things so I really was fine with it,” he said. “Life is the luck of the draw and if you feel sorry for yourself, you won’t do much good. I am fortunate since I have a form of M.S. that is a slow progressive type.”
A lifelong musician who has played trombone in different bands, his love is for Swing-Era music. Blades married in his 20s and has two sons from his first marriage, then added four children through a second marriage 28 years ago.