Stephen Baldassarri, MD, specializes in treating patients who are critically ill, have acute or chronic pulmonary diseases, and those with addiction to nicotine and tobacco products. He collaborates closely with the Smilow Cancer Hospital’s Tobacco Treatment Service, which treats adult patients struggling with nicotine addiction and smoking cessation, and, in some cases, patients who vape with e-cigarettes.
“Acute respiratory failure is something that needs to be quickly diagnosed and decisively treated,” Dr. Baldassarri says. “It’s important to identify what’s causing the problem—which can be anything from infections, heart failure, environmental exposures (including smoking or drug use), among many other causes.”
Often patients with acute respiratory failure need assistance from a ventilator or tight-fitting face mask, which are therapies designed to provide breathing support. The faster a patient receives a diagnosis, the quicker a treatment plan can be implemented, Dr. Baldassarri explains, allowing them to recover and breathe on their own sooner. When someone requires a ventilator to breathe for a prolonged period of time, the powerful muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall can start to weaken rapidly. “If a person develops significant muscle weakness, it can complicate their recovery from respiratory failure,” he says. “Early efforts to optimize physical strength and nutrition and minimize time spent on a ventilator are key treatment components to promote recovery from critical illness.”
The opportunity to treat critically ill patients has appealed to Dr. Baldassarri’s desire to help patients and their families, and his innate interest in medicine and science. “Critical care medicine involves caring for patients holistically, with attention to mind and body as a whole, and also thinking about each organ system in detail. It also involves substantial care, attention, and support of the patient’s family members,” he says.
When he connects with patients and their family members, Dr. Baldassarri focuses on being mindful and present. “In this age of distraction, maintaining focused attention is really important, and I try to put myself in their shoes, listen, and be empathetic,” he says. “Giving someone your time and undivided attention means a lot.”
In addition to treating patients, Dr. Baldassarri dedicates time to research in drug addiction, especially in the context of nicotine. One area of research includes understanding factors that influence nicotine delivery to the brain from e-cigarette devices. “We know that the speed of delivery of any drug has a major impact on how addictive the drug can be. Drugs that reach the brain faster tend to have a higher abuse liability,” he says.