William A. Delacey, MD
Sentara Cardiology Specialists
Had it not been for a case of vertigo, William DeLacey might have become a Navy fighter pilot rather than a prominent cardiologist specializing in electrophysiology. Right out of college (Duke ’78), he was heavily recruited for Aviation Candidate School, but both he and the Navy soon realized he’d never be able to fly a jet. “Had I persisted,” he says, “I probably would have wound up as a big smoking hole in the ground.”
Instead, he pursued a wish just as strong as the urge to fly. “I was always interested in science,” Dr. DeLacey says. “My father died when I was very young, and his physician, Dr. Scanlon, became a surrogate father and mentor. It was his guidance that drew me to medicine.” The Navy gave him a commission and put him through Georgetown University School of Medicine on a scholarship.
Dr. DeLacey stayed in the Navy for 12 years. He completed his internship in Internal Medicine at National Naval Medical Canter in Bethesda, followed by a year with the active service force aboard a supply ship as part of the 6th Fleet. He returned to Bethesda to complete his residency in Internal Medicine, before spending the next three years at the Naval Hospital at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina – where he had the opportunity to treat Marines as well as many Navy fighter pilots.
During his tenure at Camp LeJeune, Dr. DeLacey served as Chief of the Medical Staff of the Naval Hospital, and as President of the Medical Society. He also developed a keen interest in cardiology. In 1989, he returned to Bethesda once again, this time to pursue a fellowship in Cardiovascular Diseases. During that time, he says, he discovered he really enjoyed working with patients and implanting pacemakers. “That’s what led me to electrophysiology,” he remembers. “I loved the surgery part of it; and I find cardiology the most surgical of the medical specialties – we do surgery and medicine both.”
The Navy sent him to the University of Virginia in 1991, to study cardiac electrophysiology with Dr. John DiMarco, the man Dr. DeLacey calls “probably the smartest person I’ve ever met.”
In 1992, the Navy brought Dr. DeLacey and his family to the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth. “The Navy was very good to me and to my family,” he says, “but by 1994, it was time to get out.” They stayed in Hampton Roads because they liked the area, and he joined the practice at Lakeview Medical Center. In 2009, Dr. DeLacey’s wife passed away, and he describes the ensuing three years as challenging. But in 2012, he joined Sentara Cardiology Specialists, which he calls “definitely a big plus.”
In 2014, Dr. DeLacey remarried, and now lives in Hampton. He currently divides his time between the Southside and the Peninsula, and has recently begun working at Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, as well as at Sentara CarePlex Hospital in Hampton. He also serves as President of the Medical Staff at Sentara Obici Hospital. He credits his time with the service for nurturing the sense of leadership that has been one of the hallmarks of his career.
The Navy also instilled in him an intense appreciation for the value of teamwork. “The days of the doctor walking around as the dictator are gone – thankfully. As physicians, we may be at the top rung, but there are 50 people below us who make it happen. We can’t function without the advanced care practitioners, nurses, technicians – everybody on the ladder,” he says, “especially in the intricate and precise work of cardiac electrophysiology. You have to have a good team. My Navy training helped me understand that.”
Over the course of his career, Dr. DeLacey has seen tremendous advances in cardiology. “When I first started implanting some of the more sophisticated pacemakers, it could take five or six hours. It was tortuous,” he remembers. “Now with biventricular and three-wire pacing, we can do it in a couple of hours. That’s the way medical technology evolves: the science is there, and then the engineers get involved and make it user friendly.” Similarly, he says, procedures to implant defibrillators, which once required lengthy, open surgery can now be done in about an hour.
Dr. DeLacey believes much of the future of cardiac care, as in much of medicine, lies in gene therapy. “It’s coming. It’s definitely the future,” he says. “We’re just in the beginning phases of learning about the human genome sequence. It’s still in its infancy, but I’m fully certain that in 20 or 25 years, there’ll be gene therapy for all kinds of things: genetic diseases, heart attacks, arrhythmias. For example, I envision someone coming with a heart attack, and we inject genes inside them and it repairs the damage. And that’s during our children’s lifetimes.”
In addition, Dr. DeLacey is involved in a project with IBM at Sentara Heart, teaching the iconic computer Watson to read echocardiograms. “Watson itself doesn’t know anything,” he explains, “but once you teach it, it knows it forever. I believe Watson – or something like Watson – is going to be involved in medicine in a good way.”
Dr. DeLacey remains proud of his Navy service. “It was a very good experience for me,” he says. “I think people who have been in the service tend to have a different perspective. And it brought me here.”