Renowned U-M pediatric heart surgeon reflects on career milestone of 10,000 surgeries
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
Bove, 65, is no sap.
On the other end of that greeting was a healthy 17-year-old boy whose heart Bove operated on when the man was a two-day-old baby. Bove hadn't seen the boy since he left the hospital as an infant.
The boy came up to Bove at a recent reception and said to the doctor, "I've always wanted to meet you," Bove said.
Like many of his patients, the boy had a heart defect that Bove was able to fix through surgery.
Bove, a pediatric cardiac surgeon at U-M's Cardiovascular Center, recently acknowledged a career milestone of 10,000 surgeries at the hospital in Ann Arbor. The center as a whole performs about 850 surgeries each year.
Though the achievement was quietly completed at the end of March, once administrators discovered the tally they recently threw Bove a big surprise party to celebrate.
The vast majority of Bove’s patients are infants, he said. One some occasions, the patients return as older children when they need a follow-up surgery - as was the case recently.
Bove operated on a 12-year-old boy who he hadn’t seen since the boy was a tiny baby. He had replaced two valves in the boy’s heart - and since the boy had grown significantly, it was time for new, bigger valves to be installed.
When Bove began his career as a surgeon in 1985, success amongst pediatric cardiac surgeons was measured by survival rates.
“Almost all of those babies died,” Bove said. “The benchmark was trying to get them to live.”
As technological advances and research has advanced the field, mortality rates among patients have dropped dramatically, Bove said.
Throughout the first 15 years of his career, Bove said the field “really advanced to younger babies and smaller babies.” Instead of waiting until a child was old enough to handle a heart surgery, techniques advanced enough that Bove and other pediatric cardio surgeons can now operate on babies that only weigh a pound.
The focus of surgeons now is to follow their patients after their operations as infants to near-adulthood to see how the intensive surgery affects them later in life.
Babies often go straight from delivery to intensive care units, where they await surgery.
“There’s no question of the invasive nature of what we do,” Bove said, explaining how blood flow is virtually stopped for an hour during the operation.
Bove said he fell in love with cardiac pediatric surgery early during his time in medical school at Albany Medical College in New York.
A young patient with a heart defect that caused his skin to turn blue was introduced to Bove. As a part of his rounds, Bove examined the boy and listened to his heart sounds and was fascinated.
Later as a doctor, Bove said he encountered the same patient again -- and watched as a surgery changed the boy's skin color from blue to a healthy pink.
"I was hooked," Bove said.
There was no question in his mind about his career choice, Bove said. Growing up in New York City, Bove said he remembers his mother taking him to a large, impressive building downtown where doctors were held in high regard.
Bove said he doesn't view the 10,000 mark with as much pride as he does the 36 pictures that hang outside his office. Each of the pictures is a surgeon Bove has trained at the U-M Health System.
Operating on a person is "really a privilege," Bove said, and hasn't lost its brevity.
"It's not just the child's life, it's not just one patient, but a whole family," Bove said. "The hardest things are when the kids grow up and they have personalities."
The emotional and physical toll of being a surgeon keeps Bove on his toes.
"You can't have a bad day," he said.
Bove said he constantly evaluates his sharpness as a surgeon, and will step away from the operating table when he knows it's time to retire. But that's not coming anytime soon, he said.
"That's the best thing I can say about my career or my life: I wouldn't have changed anything," Bove said.
Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.