Mass General cardiologist Eric M. Isselbacher, MD, is a leader in his field, but it was his unyielding compassionate care that inspired a bequest gift from Elise and Rik Tuve.

Elise and Rik Tuve’s decision to make a bequest to Massachusetts General Hospital has its roots in a frightening situation that began early one morning in 1997.  Rik awoke unable to catch his breath.  Given his active lifestyle, it was a strange sensation. Discomfort and pain in his upper back persisted into a second day, so his wife, Elise, drove him from their home in Marblehead, Massachusetts, to North Shore Medical Center in Salem.

“His concept is a sound one in my mind,” Rik adds. “And I think so highly of Eric. I trust his thoughts about where medicine is going.”

Staff recognized the signs of an aortic dissection – a serious condition in which an injury to the inner layer of the aorta allows blood to flow between the layers of the aortic wall, forcing the layers apart – and arranged for Rik to be treated at Massachusetts General Hospital.

So began the couple’s relationship with the hospital and with the doctor the Tuves credit for helping to save Rik’s life.

Everything Will Be All Right

Cardiologist Eric M. Isselbacher, MD, coordinated Rik’s care, facilitated his surgery and still monitors his health more than two decades later. Today they enjoy a close relationship. In fact, to honor Dr. Isselbacher, the Tuves chose to leave a gift to the Healthcare Transformation Lab (HTL), which Dr. Isselbacher founded in 2014 and continues to direct.

The HTL’s vision is to improve the experience and value of health care for patients and providers through collaborative innovation. Rik thinks Dr. Isselbacher’s program provides great value by fostering young innovators to develop technology and systems that streamline hospital processes and support patients. “It’s an entirely unique branch of medicine that people don’t think about,” he says.

Eric M. Isselbacher, MD
Eric M. Isselbacher, MD

“His concept is a sound one in my mind,” Rik adds. “And I think so highly of Eric. I trust his thoughts about where medicine is going.”

Like many doctors at Mass General, Dr. Isselbacher is a leader in his field, Elise says. But it was his unyielding compassionate care that inspired the Tuves’ simple bequest gift. Elise recalls a particularly tense moment during Rik’s post-operative care in the ICU. “Everybody was rushing in and I thought ‘he’s going to die,’” she says. “But Eric hugged me, and said, ‘No he’s not going to die. Everything’s going to be all right.’ I will love him always.

Rik and Elise give high marks to their expanded care team at Mass General, too. After Rik recovered from surgery and came home, Elise was sometimes scared and confused. “But the nurses showed they cared about us,” she recalls. “They kept in close contact and gave me the reassurance and guidance I needed.”

A Bequest Born of Gratitude

“I wish we could give even more,” Rik says, reflecting on their bequest. “You only get one life.”

Years later, after an unrelated hernia procedure, the Tuves were so impressed by the nursing and supporting staff, Rik wrote a letter to applaud his caregivers. Another time, Rik decided to seek out his vascular surgeon, Glenn LaMuraglia, MD, to personally thank him. It was an emotional reunion. “I think there were almost tears in his eyes,” Rik says. “Mass General people deserve thanks and we don’t always take the time to show appreciation.”

The Tuves also reflect their gratitude with what they consider a modest estate gift and contributions to the hospital each year. Before retirement, Rik was an architect at a Cambridge, Massachusetts, firm driven more by helping people and enhancing lives with the structures it designed than by maximizing profits.

The couple still believe in enriching their own life and those around them. “I wish we could give even more,” Rik says, reflecting on their bequest. “You only get one life.”

Want to express appreciation for Mass General in your own way? Call us at (617) 643-2220 or email mghdevpg@partners.org for creative gift ideas and techniques.