“Medicine,” says Ellen DeSanctis, “is a family affair.”
Ellen, the daughter of legendary Massachusetts General Hospital cardiologist Roman DeSanctis, MD, and her sisters Lydia, Andrea and Marcia, are honoring the contributions every family member makes to healing with the creation of the Ruth and Roman DeSanctis Family Endowed Cardiology Fellowship Research Fund.
“I think we need to keep celebrating the ripple effects that are so important to patient care,” Ellen says. “When an individual becomes ill, it takes a team that includes medical professionals and family members to help the patient through their journey.”
The DeSanctis daughters say they are proud to honor their mother Ruth’s contributions to medicine, as well as their father’s.
A Family Commitment to Patients and Trainees
“There was no Roman DeSanctis, physician, without our mom,” says Lydia. “This fund is an opportunity to pay tribute to her role, which made it possible for him to provide such outstanding care for so many patients. Behind him was a family devoted and committed to supporting his passion for medicine.”
Although her father recollects that birthday cake was sometimes served at 5:30 or 6am so he could participate, all four of his daughters say their mother, who trained as a nurse, understood that patients often needed a doctor’s presence and guidance.
“Becoming a mentor to other cardiologists was so special to him and to us,” says Andrea. “He taught that medical care included not only providing an accurate diagnosis, but treating the whole person — their body, mind and soul. He knows how important it is to earn the love and respect of your patients,” she says.
Dr. DeSanctis says when he began his career in the late 1950s, there wasn’t much more to offer patients with heart disease beyond compassion and caring. Major advances in medical devices and therapeutics have greatly improved life expectancy for many types of heart disease in the decades since, but it remains the number one cause of death in the world. The challenge for today’s early-career cardiologists, Dr. DeSanctis says, is to combine that personal touch and relationships with patients with curiosity to explore potential solutions to unmet needs.
Supporting New Ideas to Improve Care
“Clinical research is so important to patient care now,” Dr. DeSanctis says. “But it’s almost impossible to find the resources needed to investigate new ideas, particularly for fellows in the early stage of their career development.”
That’s why the DeSanctis Family Fund supports research fellowships, says Lydia. “Excellent care doesn’t just happen in the operating room or at the bedside. Research is an underfunded, but critically important part of the outstanding care Mass General provides.”
The focus on early-career support is also fundamental to the DeSanctis family.
“Our mother not only supported our father’s selfless dedication to his patients, she invited many fellows, residents and interns into our home,” says Marcia. “Sharing holiday meals and conversations with individuals from China, India, Russia and other places helped them feel connected to a community of practitioners and their families. Making them feel welcome provided a kind of care for them, too.”
After years of helping other families, Dr. DeSanctis shifted responsibilities when he began caring for his wife Ruth, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in the last decade of her life (she passed away in 2018).
I hope this will inspire others to consider recognizing the importance of families in the caregiving process and supporting these young cardiologists at a critical time in their careers. And I hope the fellows who receive support understand this comes from a special fund with a rich history and tradition.
Preparing the Next Generation of Cardiologists
The Ruth and Roman DeSanctis Family Fund honors that caring spirit across families and every member of the medical team, especially the behind-the-scenes efforts that go into preparing outstanding caregivers.
“I hope this will inspire others to consider recognizing the importance of families in the caregiving process and supporting these young cardiologists at a critical time in their careers,” Dr. DeSanctis says. “And I hope the fellows who receive support understand this comes from a special fund with a rich history and tradition.”