A Look at a Leader: Dr. Daniel Sahlein

Growing up, interventional neuroradiologist, Dr. Daniel Sahlein never considered working in medicine. “There were two uncles who were doctors in the family, but my father worked in show biz. He was onstage in Man of La Mancha. He was an artist,” recalls Dr. Sahlein. “Sometimes I think my decision to become a doctor was my way of rebelling,” he jokes. Still, science always fascinated Dr. Sahlein when he was in school—and he says, the study of the human brain, even at a young age, consistently intrigued him.

Once in college, Dr. Sahlein was torn between focusing on medicine or science. “Medicine is more art than science and that ultimately appealed to me,” he recalls. But while in medical school he kept waiting for one area of medicine to click. “None of the specialties felt like the perfect home for me,” he recalls. He then did a fellowship in neurosurgery. “I could become a doctor who did research and that really appealed to me,” he says. Dr. Sahlein ultimately studied neuroscience at Amherst College and California Institute of Technology. He then got his MD at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York. He did a clinical research fellowship at Doris Duke at Einstein College before doing a combined Neurology / Diagnostic Radiology / Neuroradiology Program at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. He then went on to do another fellowship in Interventional Radiology at New York University. It was during the eight-year program at New York University that Dr. Sahlein knew he had found his true calling. “After only a month I felt, these are my people, this is what I want to do.”

While living in New York City, Dr. Sahlein got married and started a family. He was an Assistant Professor, Clinical Radiology in neurosurgery at Columbia University Medical Center. After a while, however, he pondered leaving Manhattan. The reason: While there were a dozen of neuroradiologists practicing in the state of New York, there were only a few people doing what he did in Indiana. It made sense to move, he says.

As an interventional neuroradiologist at IU Health Methodist Hospital, he currently performs catheter-based procedures for brain and spinal cord. Dr. Sahlein also works on patients who have had aneurysms and strokes. He treats rare conditions, including spinal AVMs (this is a rare tangle of blood vessels near or on the spine that left untreated can damage the spinal cord).

Attending top academic institutions, having fellowships at some of the most prestigious places in the country (they only accepted two candidates at Neurology / Diagnostic Radiology / Neuroradiology Program at New York University) and then becoming only one of three Interventional Neuroradiologists in the state of Indiana is no small feat but Dr. Sahlein never buckled under the pressure.

When asked what prepared Dr. Sahlein for his life in neuroradiology, he points to rock climbing.  The doctor has been rock climbing in gyms for years, even leading rock-climbing adventure groups outdoors in his off time. And Dr. Sahlein is even now currently building a rock wall for his daughter, who is only two years old. Why? “All the skills you use in rock climbing transfer to important life lessons,” says Dr. Sahlein. “This includes physical endurance and strength, intense focus, finding an alternate route when problems arise, always looking forward and never giving up until you reach your goal.”

Dr. Sahlein explains that rock climbing, like neuroradiology is a puzzle. “It can be physically exhausting working in the lab, problem-solving, staying focused, and knowing you can’t go back, only forward.” He learned from rock climbing that looking down only increased anxiety and it’s only beneficial to look up. “Like medicine, it’s all about figuring out how to solve a problem and never giving up.” These skills have worked for him his whole life and it’s important enough that he wants his daughter to learn this lesson as early as possible. “I can’t think of a better life lesson to teach her.”  

To date, Dr. Sahlein has been working at Indiana University Health for a little over a year. “I really love Indiana and the IU Health facility is world-class. It’s a very supportive environment and everyone—from doctors, to nurses to anesthesiologists—are unrivaled.”

At the end of the day, Dr. Sahlein feels his current role at IU Health is all part of a bigger plan. “I feel I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

-- By Judy Koutsky 

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