As an inquisitive boy in the third grade, Dr. Robert W. Feldtman (BS '68) said he knew his destiny was to become a surgeon who specialized in the heart. Thanks to a very good science teacher at Sam Houston Elementary School in Edinburg, Feldtman said he figured out immediately what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Today, Feldtman is one of the top cardiovascular/thoracic surgeons in the state of Texas, an inventor of numerous first-time medical procedures involving the organ and one of The University of Texas-Pan American's 2013 Pillars of Success.
Feldtman can be found working with patients at the Dallas Methodist Medical Center, a large 500-bed trauma hospital that serves an indigent community in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.
He is quite the busy surgeon as he performs two to three operations a day and sees between five and 10 patients on a typical day. He also works with hospital committees and activities. Yet Feldtman still has time to think up new medical inventions, hoping to come up with at least three new ideas each year.
Right now Feldtman said he is trying to figure out how to use robots in operating rooms to diminish radiation exposure to surgeons, nurses and patients in the room. Feldtman said his mind is constantly going and he is always working on new discoveries every day.
"I like to think about new things all the time and just sit down and flush out an idea," he said.
Among his medical innovations are the first cellular linked transvenous pacemaker and first Carotid Sinus Stimulator for Hypertension in Texas. In addition, he holds a couple of patents that involve the blood vessels and the use of graphs to treat aneurisms as well as a more advanced idea using stem cells.
One of his close friends, City of Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia (BBA '71) said Feldtman, or "Bobby" as he calls him, was always tinkering with scientific and innovative ideas when they were teenagers. Garcia recalls a time in high school when Feldtman rigged a vehicle to shock people when they touched the car as a prank.
"It stung a little, but no one got hurt," Garcia said. "He was always coming up with stuff like that. A lot of the times I thought 'where did he come up with this stuff.'"
Martha Noell, a 1986 alumna, said her big brother was always a very focused individual and is a great role model.
"I think he loves his career, but he also loves serving mankind... He is really using his degree not only for his own success but to give back," Noell said.
The Feldtmans' connection to the University runs deep as their mother Judy worked at the University library for more than 20 years and their brother Ernest, who now works in the petrochemical field in Houston, also earned his degree in chemistry in 1972 from Pan American University.
Feldtman, who was born in Harlingen, Texas, but grew up in Edinburg, said he has very fond memories of his days at Edinburg High School and Pan American College. One of the main reasons he attended Pan American was because of the fantastic leadership of Dr. J. Lell Elliott, who was the head of the chemistry department and an inspiration to him. He also touts the University's acceptance rate for students getting into medical school as one of his top reasons for attending the college.
He spent most of his time in the chemistry department working alongside Elliott and faculty member Andres Estrada, who he considered a "superb teacher" and friend.
He also involved himself in campus organizations and a fraternity, all while still keeping his eye on the prize of becoming a surgeon. In addition, he was a teaching assistant in the chemistry department, where he taught many of the first nursing students on campus.
When he graduated from Pan American, he said he left with a solid and good foundation and felt extremely well prepared for medical school.
Feldtman served his country with 30 years in the military. He was in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, retired as a colonel with 11 years of active duty from the Vietnam era to Desert Storm. He also had two years in the Texas State Guard as commander of Central Texas Brigade of Texas Medical Rangers after 9/11. His military experience he said enhanced his medical career. After he completed medical school from The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1972, he did his surgical training at a hospital in Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Over the years, he has had numerous academic appointments with medical schools in Texas. Among his other accolades are being named Top Thoracic Surgeon in Dallas for 2012 by the International Association of Healthcare Professionals and in 1983, Pan American University honored him as a Distinguished Alumnus.
As to the news that his alma mater may be transitioning into one new university with UT Brownsville and a proposed medical school in the future, Feldtman said, "That is great. I think it's long overdue. The Rio Grande Valley has long needed the medical school. I would be happy to come down and check it out."
Feldtman has been married to his wife Susan for 42 years and has two daughters, Laura and Gretchen, and five grandchildren.
Learn more about Feldtman in this video: