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February 1997

Dr. Gerard Guiraudon: From The Heart

 

By Heather BERNSTEIN

He is an internationally renowned cardiac surgeon ... a pioneer in his field, having perfected many life-saving - now standard - surgical procedures.

He is also a husband, father and a grandfather.

His name is Gerard Marcel Guiraudon, M.D., and Western New York is lucky to have him.

Dr. Guiraudon came to Buffalo in July 1996, having been named chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery for the Millard Fillmore Health System (MFHS).

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Dr. Guiraudon (right) accepts the 1996 Distinguished Scientist Award during the North American Society of Pacing and Electrophysiology (NASPE) luncheon in Seattle, Washington. John Fisher, president of NASPE, presented the award to Dr. Guiraudon.

He also is serving as associate chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery for the SUNYAB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Guiraudon has brought with him a love and passion for his work. One might say he puts his heart into it.

“I don’t feel I can accept being mediocre,” he said. “I have high standards for myself and I want to keep them there. Even when I was a young man I had a very special drive. My colleagues have told me that I taught them not to give up on patients too early; to keep thinking and trying new things ... maybe come up with a solution. The difficulty for me is to give up.”

Dr. Guiraudon is 65-years-young. The list of his accomplishments is a chronicle of most of the significant achievements in heart surgery of the past 30 years.

Among them ... performing the first human heart transplant in Europe in 1968 and pioneering the research and implementation of surgical procedures to correct heart arrhythmia, a condition long thought unmanageable by surgery.

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Dr. Guiraudon has pioneered numerous cardiac surgical techniques and has since taught these procedures to hundreds of other cardiac surgeons throughout the world.

For many, these accomplishments are reasons to consider retirement. To Dr. Guiraudon’s way of thinking, it’s just the opposite.

“I don’t think I’m ready to retire. I’m still in sound intellectual shape and physically, I’m not doing badly. One thing I hate to hear about are people who stop doing something because they have made a contribution,” he said. “The intellectual process is that every time you solve a problem and move forward, the more you realize it’s never-ending. The more you know about something, the more you desire to know. The more you discover, the more that is left to discover. It’s a state of mind.”

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Dr. Guiraudon (far right) is photographed during a 1972 cross country race in
Paris, France. Dr. Guiraudon still finds time to run 2-3 times a week.

He views the move to MFHS and the United States as both a personal and professional challenge that he could not refuse.

“Every time you move to a new place, especially to a new country, you find contrasts and dramatic challenges,” he explained. “It gives you a great shake-up in your mind and you look at things differently.”

Dr. Guiraudon considers this type of opportunity a confidence-builder and one that has made him an all-around better person. He also credits the support of the MFHS administrative team for making his transition into Buffalo a smooth one.

Proof positive of this relationship is the surgery he conducted on a 14-year-old boy from Louisiana in December 1996.

Dr. Guiraudon is one of only four cardiac surgeons in the United States (and the only one in Western New York) who performs this procedure that corrects Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a rare heart arrhythmia characterized by the sudden onset of a heartbeat of up to 300 beats per minute, which can be severely disabling and even fatal.

The boy and his family flew to Buffalo specifically to have Dr. Guiraudon do the surgery. This unique surgery, and its successful results, captured the attention of the local media.

A native of France, Dr. Guiraudon was born in Paris in 1931. After graduating from high school he entered an intensive 15-year program of medical education and training through the Hospital of Paris.

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At six-years-old, Gerard Guiraudon is
photographed with his sisters, Agnes (seated
on right) and Edith.

He received his Doctor of Medicine diploma from the French government in 1965 after completing his doctoral thesis on lung transplantation.

He then commenced his academic career at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, where he was a faculty member before accepting a position at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. From there, Dr. Guiraudon made the move to Buffalo and MFHS.

His wife of 40 years, Colette, is still living in London, Ontario, continuing her career as a pathologist.

He acknowledges the challenges of maintaining a long-distance relationship, but supports the reasons behind it.

“She (Colette) is a skilled pathologist, and she could not accept to have her talents go unused. She will move to Buffalo as soon as she finds a suitable position here,” he explained.

“We have known each other 45 years. We’ve had our careers together as well as medical school, residencies and internships. So it’s clear that medicine and careers are really part of our lives.”

The Guiraudons have three children. Their youngest daughter, Virginie, is a Ph.D. student of political science at Harvard, currently on a one-year sabbatical in France.

The other two children, Valerie and Nicolas, reside full-time in Paris. Valerie is a university teacher and Nicolas is a lawyer. Valerie is also the mother of seven-year-old Gloria.

Although his career keeps him busy, Dr. Guiraudon does make time for several other pursuits. He has an exercise regimen that involves biking and running, and he is a downhill skier and an avid reader.

“I love to read,” he said. “It’s relaxing for me and I usually am reading more than one book at a time. Different kinds of books have different rewards.”

However, his life’s work is at the core of his daily existence. He said he doesn’t have time for much else, so he considers cardiac surgery his hobby as well as his vocation.

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Dr. Guiraudon says his life’s work is at the core of his daily existence.

“There’s the saying that most people do their hobby better than their job, so at least if it’s (cardiac surgery) my hobby, I’m fine.”

Dr. Guiraudon added that the promise of what the future holds for cardiac surgery is one thing that keeps him going.

“Essentially, I’m living in the future,” he said. “I’ve not much interest in what I’ve done before.”

And the biggest reward of his professional career?

“I am most proud of my involvement in surgery for cardiac arrhythmias (heart beating too quickly),” he said. “At the beginning the field was unexplored, but thanks to the efforts of cardiologists, scientists, electrophysiologists and pathologists we were able to design surgical rationales and apply new surgical techniques to patients. Intervention for cardiac arrhythmia is now a highly-efficient and active field.

“Positive and productive involvement in a field is a very rewarding experience. It’s what I wanted to do with my life. You have to love what you do.”

Heather Bernstein is with the Millard Fillmore Health System.
Photos courtesy of Dr. Gerard Guiraudon, Millard Fillmore Health System and PhotoPros.

 

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