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Father and son cardiac surgeons - a heartfelt legacy of care

June 14, 2018
Heart surgeons John Tony Rousou

As a youngster, Dr. Tony Rousou and his brothers used to tag along on weekends with their father, Dr. John Rousou, when he would visit his cardiac patients at Baystate Medical Center.

“I was struck by my father’s dedication to his patients...taking calls at all hours and even calling the hospital on vacations to check on his patients. When we would go out to dinner as a family, inevitably someone he had operated on or a family member would approach our table to express their gratitude. That made a real impression on me, that what my father was doing was meaningful and important and had a real impact on peoples’ lives,” he said.

It should come as no surprise that Tony – who also observed his father in the operating room as part of a high school internship – would go on to follow in his father’s footsteps to become a cardiac surgeon.

Making a difference

“As a cardiac surgeon you can make a very real, immediate impact on your patients, and I like seeing that,” said the young surgeon.

In 1978, Dr. Richard Engelman moved his family to Springfield to begin the first cardiac surgery program in Western Massachusetts. Dr. Rousou, his trainee at the University of Illinois Medical Center, came with his mentor to help establish the program. Today, the Division of Cardiac Surgery at Baystate has been named a Top 50 Cardiovascular Hospital by Watson Health, recognizing its superior clinical outcomes, and sees between 800 to 900 surgery patients each year.

Dr. Rousou, who noted he always had an interest in biology and anatomy, reminisced about what inspired him as a boy growing up in Cyprus to enter the medical field.

His first patient

“My first patient was a dog,” he laughed. “My cousin and I would spend the summer with our grandfather. This particular summer his dog was run over by a car damaging his hind legs. We made a cast for him and nursed him back to health, and before the summer was over he was walking again, although a bit wobbly.”

Unfortunately, father and son never got to practice alongside one another at Baystate Medical Center. The elder Rousou retired as chief of Cardiac Surgery about 18 months ago, and his son has only been at Baystate for eight months after working for a practice in Chicago for eight years.

“It was time for a change. Obviously my family is here and my wife is from Longmeadow. So, when there was an additional opening for a cardiac surgeon not long after my father retired, we decided to leave Chicago and return home,” said Dr. Rousou.

Offering sage advice

The elder Dr. Rousou, 73, has plenty of sage advice to offer, and father and son sometimes “consult.”

“Tony calls me occasionally to get my opinion about how he is approaching a particularly difficult case and to talk about options,” said Dr. Rousou.

What’s the best advice he has ever given his son as a surgeon?

“I told Tony to focus on each patient as an individual. All patients are different and you must identify ahead of time any risk factors before going into surgery, such as does your patient have diabetes or kidney problems,” he said.

Proud of his son

“Obviously, I’m very proud of Tony...seeing him as an accomplished surgeon today after lengthy training in various institutions around the country,” added Dr. Rousou about his son, who attended Tufts University School of Medicine followed by nine years of training, first in general surgery at New York University, along with two years of research at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, then a two-year fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery at Yale School of Medicine.

There is still another surgeon in the Rousou family. Tony’s brother, Laki, is a cardiothoracic surgeon in Springfield with privileges at Baystate Medical Center.

But, the Rousous aren’t the only father and son cardiac surgeons with ties to Baystate.

Dr. Engelman, who today at 79 serves as the hospital’s chief of Cardiac Surgical Research, works alongside his son, Dan, who is surgical director of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.