After opening New York Hospital of Queens' first cardiac catheterization lab in 1994, Gustafson saw patients there for several years, but was exposed to excessive amounts of radiation.
So in 2010 he opened an office in Maspeth and spent one morning a week seeing patients in the community. However, the private practice there closed and Gustafson went back to working at the hospital as a full-time teacher.
Now he's happily back.
“Maspeth, in the middle of a city, has this almost village-like feel,” he said in an interview last Friday in his office at 72-41 Grand Avenue. “I really, really love the personal involvement of getting to know people’s families, husbands and wives come in, daughters bring in their mothers.”
He said at the hospital, he never met 90 percent of his patients before they came in for treatment, or ever saw them again.
But in Maspeth, Gustafson can perform what medicine is really about, he said.
“Care of the soul, it’s understanding people’s lives and needs and helping them to cope with all those things and identifying the emotional issues and the medical issues that you can help them with, either by counseling them or by deciding what kind of treatments might be useful for them,” Gustafson said.
“It can be stress-related chest pain or it could be somebody who’s really about to have a heart attack that you really have to move fast on,” he added. “And you have to have the knowledge and the experience to give them counsel, have them trust you, so you can lead them to a better place where they’re not feeling so bad.”
Gustafson grew up in the hill country of northwest New Jersey, in a town of about 500 people, which is part of the reason why he feels so comfortable in Maspeth, he said.
In the beginning of his career, while practicing in Manhattan, he worked with an innovative group if invasive cardiologists, who were among the first perform invasive cardiac procedures for the purpose of assessing coronary artery disease.
Invasive cardiology wasn't a common procedure until the late 1970s, after a wave of heart disease swept through the United States.
“Everybody was afraid to get near the heart, to touch the heart, and certainly no one was going to put something down a coronary artery to see what it looked like,” Gustafson said. “Everybody just assumed that if you did something like that, you’d kill the patient on the spot.”
Now, operative techniques that are done through catheters on a video screen as opposed to open heart surgery are used regularly.
But Gustafson said his time in the innovative world of medicine is behind him, and he's happy doing cardiac consultations for residents of Maspeth and surrounding areas.
His private practice includes managing high blood pressure and other heart problems, previous heart attacks, bypass surgery survivors, those with irregular heart rhythms, or younger people who are looking to prevent heart problems, he said.
Although he still spends most of his time at the hospital, Gustafson makes himself available to his Maspeth patients, as many of them call his cell phone to reach him.
“I love it here,” he said. “I love my job, I love my work.”