By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, email@example.com
COVID put the kibosh on a big party, but there was no way Riley Hospital for Children could let two living legends walk out the door in 2020 without a little pomp and circumstance.
Cardiologist Randy Caldwell and cardiothoracic surgeon John Brown joined several members of the Riley heart center team three days before Christmas for a surprise announcement.
Riley Chief Operating Officer Dr. Paul Haut was on hand in the lobby of Simon Family Tower to honor the two retiring physicians with proclamations signed by Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, highlighting their remarkable careers and designating Jan. 1, 2021, as Dr. John W. Brown Day and Dr. Randall L. Caldwell Day.
The two men, who began their full-time Riley careers on the same day – July 1, 1978 – are retiring at the same time. Not by design, Dr. Caldwell said, but for two physicians whose careers aligned so closely over the past four decades, it seems somehow appropriate.
“You two have made an incredible difference in the lives of so many,” Dr. Haut said to the physicians, as they stood before their colleagues and listened to him read, then present to each of them, the framed proclamations affixed with the seal of the city.
Dr. Brown, renowned internationally for his skills as a surgeon, pioneered many procedures over his career. He performed the first pediatric heart transplant in the state in 1989, in partnership with Dr. Caldwell, whose work has helped propel Riley’s cardiology division into a Top 5 program in the country.
Together, their lifesaving work has led to a new issue for the next generation of cardiologists – serving pediatric congenital heart disease patients who’ve grown into adulthood. Previously, these patients did not survive beyond infancy.
Hoosier values of humility and service define both men, Dr. Haut said, and their generosity and commitment have made Riley a better hospital and Indiana a better state.
Dr. Larry Markham, division chief of the pediatric cardiology program at Riley, described the retiring physicians as “two of the most southern Midwestern gentlemen that I could ever hope to come to know and work with. This program that you all guided all these years … we are now reaping the fruits of your struggles.”
Riley’s cardiology and heart surgery program is ranked fifth in the nation in the most recent U.S. News & World Report study.
“We’ve had uphill battles, but we’ve conquered a lot,” Dr. Markham said. “And I can tell you both that after seeing some of your now adult patients, those patients and families adore you and remain appreciative of the time and care that you’ve given them. That same appreciation is felt across the division, the heart center, Riley and IU Health. Thank you both for your time, your honesty, your gracious manner. We have all learned from your example.”
Dr. Mark Turrentine said he owes his career as a transplant surgeon to both Drs. Brown and Caldwell, who welcomed him to Riley nearly 30 years ago.
“It’s been such an amazing experience here,” he said, adding that the lack of turnover in the staff “says something about this place, this program and the people that you all are. It’s such a privilege. My personal thanks to both of you.”
In addition to the proclamations, the men received framed pieces of “heart art” created by Riley art therapist Emily Allbery and decorated with the help of child life specialist Courtney Lyon and the kids and team on the heart floor. The art signifies the milestones in the doctors’ careers and defines them as healers, teachers and leaders.
Dr. Brown said while he will miss working with the team and his patients, “I leave it in superb hands and I know that this place is going to continue to grow. The citizens of Indiana can be proud – it’s always been a great place, taking great care of kids, but it’s even better now thanks to all of your hard work. Thanks for all of your friendship and all that you’ve contributed to my career these past decades.”
Dr. Caldwell also expressed sincere appreciation to the team gathered but said all the accolades should go to them.
“It’s easy to do what we’re doing when we have people around us who are so excellent.”
Hoosier humility to the end.