Father-Daughter Doctors Perform Heart Surgery Together: 'This Will Be the First of Many,' Says Dad
The gift of a board game called Operation when she was about 4 years old helped pave the way for Sophia Roberts to follow in her father's career path.
"My sister Beth said, 'You know she's really good at that!'" cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Harold Roberts told St. Louis NBC station KSDK-TV.
By then Sophia already knew her father was someone special. During dinners out with the family, "Someone would come up and say, 'Dr. Roberts, you don't remember me, but you operated on my mother and gave her 10 extra years,'" Sophia told St. Louis Public Radio.
She shared with KSDK: "That had a big impact on me as a kid."
Raised in South Florida, Sophia had relatives in the greater St. Louis area and would often visit. She remembered the towering medical campus that is home to Barnes Jewish Hospital and the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.
"My grandmother had surgery here," she told the TV station. "My grandfather has been hospitalized here. It's a place that I'd want my family members to go to. So to me growing up, this was always like the pinnacle of medicine."
It became a destination for her as well. After attending Yale University and the Ohio State University College of Medicine, Sophia set her sights on Washington University, where she is now a second-year resident in a seven-year program training to become a cardiothoracic surgeon like her dad.
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Neither imagined they'd one day work hand-in-hand as partners, with Dr. Sophia Roberts recently assigned to assist Dr. Harold Roberts in the operating room.
"It was a pretty complicated case," her father said, "but she, if I say so myself, did a really good job."
The confluence occurred after Harold accepted an offer last year to join the staff of Washington University's heart and vascular program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, following 30 years as a cardiac surgeon in Florida and West Virginia. Before taking the job, however, he wanted to make sure his daughter didn't mind that they'd be working in the same program.
"My immediate response was, 'Yes, you have to do this!'" Sophia told KSDK.
Her father added: "Trust me, if she's like, 'Oh please don't do that,' I wouldn't have come."
He told St. Louis Public Radio: "She makes my job easier around here because she's such a popular resident with the attending [physicians]. Anytime I meet one, they go, 'Oh, you're Sophia's dad.'"
Contributing to his paternal pride: Women account for less than 8 percent of cardiothoracic surgeons in the U.S.
But Sophia, having first entered the operating room with her father when she was 11, never wavered in her goal. Watching her dad in his element, "There's all these different tubes and things coming out of the heart that basically recirculate all the blood in the body while the heart is not beating anymore," she told the radio station. "So to see a heart beating, and then stop and then beat again — as an 11-year-old, that's almost like a supernatural experience."
Sophia also was moved by her father's transformation from a soft-spoken dad at home to a take-charge leader in the operating theater, helping to direct the work of others.
"Cardiac surgery is really like the ultimate team sport," she said, according to St. Louis Public Radio. "And really, it's the surgeon that leads and kind of dictates the mood of the room, so it was very cool to see my dad doing that."
He'd set her up well. As a kid, Sophia wore the toy stethoscope her father gave her and followed his instruction to practice stitches on a banana. He noticed her attention to details, and picked up on her potential.
"She's got a good set of hands and a very good head to go with it," he told the radio station.
Now, having seen her put both to good practice working alongside each other in their shared field, "The thing I'm looking forward to is that this will be the first of many," he told KSDK.