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Take Heart

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Patrick M. McCarthy
Cardiothoracic Surgery, Northwestern Memorial Hospital

While in the second grade, growing up in Palos Park, Patrick McCarthy wrote an essay about becoming a doctor. It was a natural topic for the child of a general surgeon, and eventually the boy would realize his dream—though via a circular path.

At Notre Dame, McCarthy studied anthropology and archaeology before realizing he preferred, as he says, “the immediate response of medicine.” At Loyola University’s medical school, he initially dismissed cardiology as “boring”—before experiencing a turnaround at the Mayo Clinic and acknowledging that heart surgery could actually be “pretty fascinating.” Further study at Stanford in heart transplants and high-tech procedures led to a 14-year stint at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic.

In April 2004, McCarthy moved to Northwestern Memorial Hospital to serve as a co-director of its Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. (Robert Bonow, Northwestern’s chief of cardiology, is the institute’s other director.) Since arriving, McCarthy has recruited a number of the nation’s top doctors and beefed up the institute’s support staff (“The reason this place is going to be successful is because of all the people we hired,” he says, “and I don’t just mean surgeons”). He has overseen the completion of an extensive patient database—“It’s mundane,” he notes, “but this is how medicine progresses”—and is regularly in the operating room, where his specialty is remedying valve disease in a minimally invasive fashion. “A heart transplant is great if you really need it,” he says, “but it’s my job to find something else.”

To relax, McCarthy enjoys getting away with his wife, Michelle, to their 120-acre home in Michigan, though he is known to come back from those vacations with a couple of new medical patents (he has about 15 to his credit, and several more percolating). And his return to Chicago has had the advantage of keeping his children nearby, a daughter just out of college and a son in med school at Northwestern.

And what kind of medicine does McCarthy fils expect to practice? “Neuro-something,” says the proud papa, who understands that choosing a career path is not always an exact science.

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