Finding Human Connection and a Newly Vibrant Life Through VCU Health

When Frank Parrish came to Virginia in 2013, he already knew he would soon need a second heart surgery. What he didn’t know was that he would gain a friend in the process.

Ten years earlier, in Boston, Frank suffered two heart attacks on the same day. The attacks led to quadruple bypass and mitral valve repair surgery.

Knowing the type of valve repair he received in the first surgery would result in stenosis, or narrowing of the valve, and already feeling symptoms of that condition soon after he arrived, Frank began looking for the best heart surgeon in Virginia.

“Living in Boston 40 years, I was extraordinarily spoiled by the quality of the medical care overall,” Frank told us. “I made inquiries of friends, I went online, I spoke to other doctors. All roads in my search led to VCU Health and, in particular, to Vigneshwar Kasirajan.”

Frank said that he and his wife Eliza immediately felt a connection with Dr. Kasirajan, who today is the Stuart McGuire Chair in the VCU Department of Surgery.

Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D., Stuart McGuire Professor and chair in the VCU Department of Surgery, speaks with us about the importance of making human connections with patients.
Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D., Stuart McGuire Professor and chair in the VCU Department of Surgery, speaks with us about the importance of making human connections with patients.

Frank and Eliza felt confident in the hands of their first surgeon from Boston — one of the top-rated in the country — but Dr. Kasirajan offered something in addition to technical prowess, and that was a human connection.

“Heart surgery is a deeply intimate act for the patient, and when I met Vig Kasirajan, I broached that with him,” Frank said. “I told him that I really thought it was important for us to connect at a human level. I told him I had a life I loved, and that I wanted to lead it vigorously for as long as I possibly could. He engaged with that, he related to that.”

Dr. Kasirajan told us the connection that Frank and Eliza felt is just as important as any part of the surgical process.

“People come to us seeking help in their time of greatest need,” he said. “It is important for us to understand that and be able to connect with them and hear what they want. They want reassurance, they want to know that they’ve come to the right place. Ultimately, the most important person in the whole team is the patient.”

Once Frank and Eliza made their decision, Dr. Kasirajan performed Frank’s second heart surgery in 2015. The procedure lasted nine hours and involved, among other elements, Dr. Kasirajan replacing Frank’s mitral valve and performing a single bypass.   

Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D., Stuart McGuire Professor and chair in the VCU Department of Surgery, performs an operation at VCU Health. He performed Frank Parrish’s valve replacement and single bypass operation in 2015.
Vigneshwar Kasirajan, M.D., Stuart McGuire Professor and chair in the VCU Department of Surgery, performs an operation at VCU Health. He performed Frank Parrish’s valve replacement and single bypass operation in 2015.

The mitral valve separates the left lower and left upper chambers of the heart. It’s an important valve because it protects the lung against the high pressure generated by the lower chamber of the heart. It also needs to allow blood to get into the lower chamber to be pumped out.

In Frank’s case, the valve was constricted, which prevented enough blood from entering the chamber. It also was leaking blood backwards. Dr. Kasirajan replaced the valve, allowing the correct amount of blood to move through and preventing leakage.

Frank was up and walking in his hospital room the very next day and out of the hospital within a week.

“It’s really kind of difficult to describe the difference in an absolute way because I’m not a surgeon, but what I do know is at a very human level, my life has been even more extraordinary since that surgery,” Frank said. “Today, I have the most wonderful life. I’m 72 now, but I feel like I’m 42. I walk two miles a day with my dog. I travel as much as I possibly can. I walk the cities of the world and the fields and mountains of the world with my wife.”

Dr. Kasirajan is also a part of Frank’s life following surgery. He and his wife have been to Frank and Eliza’s house for dinner on multiple occasions, and each counts the other a true friend.

And while Frank found the human connection he was looking for, he also found a level of expertise at VCU Health Pauley Heart Center in his surgeon and in his current three-person cardiac care team that he didn’t expect.

“I don’t know whether you could call it surprised, but then again, I don’t know what else you could call it,” he said. “Coming from Boston, where I had access to the best medical care in the country, and finding that the quality of the cardiac-related care here at VCU is greater — of higher quality — than that which I received in Boston is amazing.”

It’s this combination of building a human connection and delivering a technically sound procedure that Dr. Kasirajan and his team work for every day.

“You begin to understand, and you begin to see what you’ve done to make somebody’s life improve by enabling them to do what they want to do with their life,” Dr. Kasirajan said. “I think that’s critically important to reinforce what we do, because in the end of it, it’s all for the people, it’s for them, it’s for their outcomes. And ultimately someday, if I’m a patient, I’ll expect the same.”

As the Stuart McGuire Chair in the Department of Surgery, Dr. Kasirajan’s position is supported by an endowment, meaning private donations helped make Frank’s story and many others like it a reality. There are many ways to support patient care, research and education on the MCV Campus, and if you’d like to find out more about all the tools we have available to provide that support, click here.

Williamsburg residents Frank and Eliza Parrish are avid travelers, a pursuit that Frank says has been made possible by the care and surgery he received on the MCV Campus at VCU Health. Above on the left, Frank stands atop the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. On the right, Eliza and Frank enjoy a wedding in Massachusetts.
Williamsburg residents Frank and Eliza Parrish are avid travelers, a pursuit that Frank says has been made possible by the care and surgery he received on the MCV Campus at VCU Health. Above on the left, Frank stands atop the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. On the right, Eliza and Frank enjoy a wedding in Massachusetts.