Retired cardiologist Dr. Randall Caldwell named Healthcare Hero

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Beloved physician continues to collect honors, even as he has turned his attention to helping in new ways by volunteering in the community.

By Maureen Gilmer, senior journalist,

It will surprise absolutely no one who knows him to hear that Dr. Randall Caldwell doesn’t like the spotlight.

So, receiving the Indianapolis Business Journal’s Healthcare Hero Award for top physician was not on a list of honors he sought.

Nonetheless, the retired cardiologist who served patients and families at Riley Hospital for Children for nearly 43 years received that award last week during a breakfast to recognize those in the medical profession.

Dr. Caldwell, who retired Jan. 1 of this year, might have thought he was finished collecting honors for his long and distinguished career. But his Riley family wanted this recognition for him.

“Over his storied career, Dr. Caldwell served as director of the echocardiogram and pediatric heart transplant programs at Riley,” said Dr. Elaine Cox, chief medical director of Riley, in her nomination letter.

“He helped launch the heart transplant program at Riley in 1989 and helped give new lives to more than 170 children through cardiac transplantation,” she added.

His expertise and compassionate care were hallmarks of his career, influencing others, like former patient and current Riley pediatric cardiologist Dr. John Parent, to follow in his footsteps.

“As my high school years progressed and I pondered what I wanted to do with my life, it became obvious I wanted to be like Dr. Caldwell,” Dr. Parent said. “I wanted people to trust me in that way, and I was inspired to work in a field I was exposed to first-hand as a child.”

Dr. Caldwell examining a child

Dr. Caldwell said by phone Friday that any honors he has received must be shared with the Riley team.

“It’s very much a team effort,” he said. “The honors, while I appreciate them, are not that important to me. I’m happy to have other people at the podium.”

That humble nature defines the beloved physician, who was just the third pediatric cardiologist in the state when he joined Riley the day after completing his fellowship. The other two – Drs. Don Girod and Roger Hurwitz – were also at Riley.

Together, they elevated and expanded Riley’s young pediatric cardiology program into a world-class heart center, currently ranked fifth in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s hospital rankings survey.

“This award really is shared among all the people I’ve worked with,” Dr. Caldwell said. “If you work with good people, it makes work a pleasure.”

Leaving Riley was not easy, but COVID-19 convinced him it was time to step away – that there was more to be done in life beyond work. But he acknowledges he has missed it.

“Riley is like a second family, not just the people I worked with but the patients too. With COVID, we were more separated and isolated, so it was very difficult,” he said.

“I felt like I was already withdrawing to some degree because of those restrictions, and I realized it was probably going to be easier just to walk away, then maybe come back some day and see people.”

Since retiring nearly nine months ago, the Indianapolis native has thrown himself into volunteer work – at his church and at Hope Center Indy, a residential program for women who’ve been trafficked.

“I’ve been doing some carpentry and painting there,” he said, “things that don’t require a medical degree.”

“I can’t sit down and do nothing, so I transferred my energies to other things.”

Hobbies are nice, he said, but he feels a duty to do more.

“When we retire, we don’t retire from life. I think it’s important to continue giving back to the community and to other people,” he said. “You have to keep investing in other people. That’s what I’m doing now, and I’m enjoying that immensely.”

Also honored during the IBJ Healthcare Heroes event:

The Riley Nursing Professional Development team, which trained nurses for redeployment during the pandemic and established a skills training lab, allowing nurses to step into patient-care roles as COVID cases climbed and staffing was stretched thin.

What they created became a blueprint for other hospitals throughout the state.

“The plan would never have been successful had it not been for the hundreds of selfless nurses putting themselves out of their comfort zone to answer the call,” said Greta Price, director of clinical professional development and patient education.

Marge Crouch, a Riley volunteer, was also recognized for her work to create the Riley Comfort Cart, “a convenience store on wheels,” providing free toiletries, snacks and other items to Riley families.

“Marge is the wings of the program,” said Susan Schwarz, Riley’s volunteer resources coordinator.