In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

December 3, 2015

Chance Conversation Feels Like Something of a Miracle

By In the Loop

Michelle Mahour, D.D.S., with her father, Gholam Mahour, M.D.

If you ask Michelle Mahour, D.D.S., there are no coincidences. Miracles, however, are another story. Those she has no trouble believing in — especially the miracle that she believes saved her life.

That story begins in Rochester, Minnesota, in the 1960s. Michelle’s father, Gholam Mahour, M.D., had come to Rochester for a pediatric surgery residency at Mayo Clinic. One day a young cardiac surgeon, Giancarlo Rastelli, M.D., sat next to Dr. Mahour in the hospital cafeteria and outlined plans for a heart procedure he was developing. “Dr. Rastelli diagrammed a surgery he was working on to correct transposition of the great blood vessels,” says Michelle. She tells us her father “always wondered why Rastelli was so passionate about the procedure, since there wasn’t a great demand for it.” Decades later, Dr. Mahour would discover a very personal answer to that question.

For many years, Dr. Mahour didn’t think much about that cafeteria conversation. He finished his training and moved to California, got married, and started a family. Meanwhile, Dr. Rastelli continued his work at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Rastelli began receiving awards for his research and development of new surgical techniques, including two gold medals from the American Medical Association. At 34 he was named head of cardiovascular surgical research at Mayo Clinic. Sadly, his leadership was short-lived. In 1970, at the age of 36, Dr. Rastelli died from Hodgkin’s disease.

Michelle, as it happens, entered the world just a few months after Dr. Rastelli’s death. She was born two months premature, with health problems that included transposition of the great blood vessels — the same rare condition Dr. Rastelli had studied and discussed with Dr. Mahour years earlier. When Michelle was 29 years old and “on the verge of death,” what has become known as the Rastelli procedure “saved my life,” she says. “To me, the story is miraculous.”

That miraculous story has inspired Michelle to learn more about Dr. Rastelli, who she discovered has been nominated for sainthood. It turns out the doctor who dedicated himself to repairing broken hearts had a very big heart of his own. He was known to work long hours despite his illness, comforted patients from his native Italy in their native tongue, helped patients with expenses, was beloved by colleagues, and kept a poster in his office that he asked his Italian patients to sign. The poster featured a large heart and an Italian expression that translates: Love always wins.

You can learn more about Dr. Rastelli’s story and legacy in a tribute published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery. Then, show us some love by sharing your comments below and use the tools above to share this story with others.

Tags: Dr. Giancarlo Rastelli, Innovation, Practice story, Rastelli procedure, Thoracic Surgery

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