Why I Became a Vein Doctor in Pittsburgh | Happel Laser & Vein Center

Why I Became a Vein Doctor in Pittsburgh | Happel Laser & Vein Center

Why I Chose to Become a Vein Doctor

Why Did I Choose Varicose Veins as a Profession?

People ask why I went into veins.

Too often, in fact.

They are curious.

It must seem weird.

Why veins of all things?

I do bring a keen interest, I must admit, into a field that must appear strange to many.

What motivates a doctor to spend their life treating veins?

What people really want to know is what was the career path that I took which ended up in my treating only veins.

We’ll get to all of that.

But before I start…

More Importantly – What Does All This Mean to You?

This great blog post will help you choose a vein specialist who you will entrust to treat your veins.

People usually want to know more about their doctor than just their qualifications and certifications.

How to Find the Top Vascular Surgeon Vein Specialist in Pittsburgh

After that question is out of the way – What makes the doctor tick?

Is the doctor:

  • Empathetic?
  • Compassionate?
  • Available for questions and concerns?
  • Does the doctor really care about me as a patient or am I just a case?

What does the doctor confess about the everyday problems of being a vein specialist?

Confessions of a Varicose Vein Specialist – Happel Laser & Vein Centre

The Ballad of John and Niki

Niki is my wife.


We have two children.

My daughter is in medical school and my son is in pre-med.

My wife is a nurse and runs the office.

One of our strongest assets is her organizational skills and her ability to get things done efficiently and in a timely manner.

Dealing with insurance companies is no joy ride as many people are finding out.

We have a strong marriage but working together every day can have its moments.

In a high stress environment like vascular surgery, our marriage has been tested by fire. We are still – dare I say it – in love.


It’s unusual for marriages to work so well these days.

Knock on wood.

My Early Days in Vascular Surgery

I began practicing vascular surgery in Pittsburgh in 1986. I began specializing in veins alone in 1999.

Niki, my wife and nurse, was my first assistant in the operating room.

As a vascular surgeon, I did bypasses, carotid endarterectomy surgery, aneurysm repair, dialysis access fistulas and grafts – the whole nine yards.

That includes blood vessel surgery on every part of the body except the brain and the heart.

My father, a general surgeon, assisted me before he retired in 1992.

That’s when Niki began helping me in the operating room and with patients in the hospital.

She is my right hand and we complement each other very well.

At UPMC South Side Hospital, I became the chief of surgery. That was a position that I held for many years.

I developed and directed the vascular laboratory there for many years.

Our hospital lab was the very first in Pittsburgh to become IAC accredited.

Later my vein center was the first and only one to obtain vein center accreditation.

Our Vein Office: Welcome to My House

Our office is very small.

But we’re kind of a big deal.

I am the only doctor.

There are no physician assistants or nurse practitioners.

With us, you will have complete access to my expertise.



I alone will design a treatment plan with your help.

No one will assume your care in the middle of the stream.

In addition, there’s no outside billing department or dozens of employees who don’t know you personally.

It’s human nature to wonder about these things when you are entrusting your health to someone else.

It also helps that we know you and your case personally when you are expecting your insurance to pay their fair share.

At our office, things don’t fall between the cracks.

A Tale of Two Cities

I received my general surgery training in Philadelphia, PA.

After completing five years there, I was accepted to the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

It was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester that I completed my vascular surgery fellowship. I trained under the leading vascular surgeons in the country.

It was mind blowing.

Among the awesome vein specialists with whom I trained was Peter Gloviczki MD.

He is widely respected as the top vein expert in the world.

Recently, because of his leadership in venous disease, he was asked to testify before the Medicare’s planning committee for his take on the future of vein coverage in the future.

During my training at Mayo, I also worked with the Lofgren brothers who specialized in unbelievable varicose vein care.

Their meticulous method of performing long and tedious varicose vein procedures taught me the rewards of this painstaking and thorough approach to the problem.

Although the techniques have been modified, their proven winning formula and lessons enable me to provide superior vein care right here in Pittsburgh.

The Challenges and Rewards of Treating Varicose Veins

Among the unsung heroics of the job, is trying new things.

Like squirting glue into people’s veins for the first time.

Or being the first doctor to stick a laser fiber into another’s veins.

Sure, their safety and effectiveness had been thoroughly evaluated and FDA approved.

But still, to be one of the first.

A pioneer no less.

Unchartered waters.

It can be daunting.

At the same time – thrilling.

A big challenge was getting our vein center accredited.

I was ecstatic when we were the first vein center to get inspected.

I even took out ads to let the world know that we had passed.

I was so proud.

Nobody cared.

Nobody except for my wife and me.

It doesn’t matter.

My vein center remains the only one that is accredited in Pittsburgh.

Most patients give me a blank stare when I mention this incredible accomplishment.

No one understands.

That’s OK.

Every day has new challenges.

Every vein problem and every unique personality that people bring into the treatment mix is different.

I still love my job.

I know, droll.

Too nerdy?

Why it’s exciting to me is best left for philosophers.

There must be an app for that.

But you know what’s kind of sad?

Vein franchises and med spas flourish in Pittsburgh and make bank cutting corners and practicing on the edge.

I’ve said it all before when discussing the different kinds of varicose vein doctors in Pittsburgh.

It’s still frustrating.


There I go again, as a president might say.

About The Author

Dr. John Happel

Dr. John Happel has been in practice as a surgeon since 1986 in the Pittsburgh region. He specializes in vascular surgery and has subspecialized in the treatment of varicose and spider veins since 1999. Dr. Happel is board certified in vascular surgery and recertified in vascular surgery in 2012. He was chosen in 1985 to fulfill the position for the vascular surgical fellowship at the world renowned Mayo Clinic.