Constantine D. Mavroudis, MD, MSc, MTR, joins the Cardiac Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) as an attending cardiothoracic surgeon and assistant professor of surgery. Dr. Mavroudis is a graduate of Williams College where he majored in philosophy. He received his MD and master’s degree in clinical research methods at Loyola University, and later completed a master’s degree in translational research at the University of Pennsylvania during his training in cardiothoracic surgery. Dr. Mavroudis has authored many peer-reviewed papers and textbook chapters and sits on the editorial board of Cardiology in the Young.
When not teaching, in the laboratory or practicing medicine, Dr. Mavroudis can often be found training for his next marathon or triathlon. He recently sat down for an informal Q&A about his career path, his personal hero and the importance of resilience, both in athletics and in medicine.
Q. What led you to pursue a career in medicine?
A. My father is a prominent congenital heart surgeon, so I grew up with a unique perspective. He never pushed me into the field, but we spoke a lot about the joys of a medical career. By the time I was 8, I knew I wanted to be a surgeon, but I thought I wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon. We lived in Chicago at that time, and the Bulls were mid-dynasty. When my mother needed a bilateral knee replacement, the Bulls’ team surgeon performed the operation. Soon after, my mother was back to playing tennis. As a kid, I thought there couldn’t possibly be a better job: help someone feel better and have courtside seats at all the Bulls games. In medical school, however, I did a summer of research in orthopaedic surgery, and during that time, realized I didn’t like it. I was interested in cardiothoracic surgery, but I was also apprehensive because of my father’s success. He and I went on a run one day, as we sometimes did, and I expressed my worries to him. My dad was very receptive and assured me I was on a great path and would achieve my own success.
Q. What do you like most about working with children?
A. Kids are pretty amazing. Even when they have been hospitalized, they don’t always seem to know they’re sick. They still find a way to be kids. In addition to the endless range of conditions and anatomical complexity inherent to treating children, that resilience and innocence drives me to make sure my patients can focus on just being kids. I remember rounding with my dad and seeing sick kids in the cardiac ICU who were otherwise just like me. Looking back, that had a profound impact. Congenital heart disease affects 1% of the population and can happen to anybody. I want my patients to get back to being kids and enjoying life. While my patients have a profound impact on me, I want them to live their lives without thinking about surgery and without thinking about their disease.
Q. What are your research interests?
A. I am interested in better understanding the mechanisms of brain injury after heart surgery and developing ways to better monitor and treat it. Currently, along with Drs. Licht and Kilbaugh, I’m investigating next-generation neuromonitoring technology so we can diagnose and treat brain injury before the problem becomes irreversible. We’re also looking at the mitochondrial basis for brain injury in an effort to both better understand the pathophysiology of brain injury and to develop targeted therapies to help minimize brain injury when it does occur.
Q. Describe a personal or professional breakthrough in your life.
A. I’ve been involved in triathlons since I was 15. I first heard about the Ironman World Championship on the Wide World of Sports as a child, and I’d dreamed of competing in this race for as long as I could remember. During medical training, my life got busier, and I’d given up on that dream. But during a difficult time in my life, I chose not to dwell on negativity and the struggles I was facing and instead channel it into training for a triathlon. I signed up for an Ironman race and poured all of my stress and negative emotions into training. I ended up having a great race and qualifying for the World Championship in Hawaii. In the months between qualification and the world championship, the personal and professional issues I’d been facing gradually began to improve. When I crossed the finish line in Kona, I had not only realized a childhood dream, but had also turned a very difficult time into a great triumph. The same qualities needed for athletic pursuits are important when it comes to this line of work. Sometimes you have to play hurt to get through a situation where you are in physical, emotional or mental discomfort. Practicing that through athletics helps build resilience both as an athlete and as a surgeon. I approach my career similarly to how I approach athletic endeavors. Triumphs, no matter how small, are a reminder of what can be accomplished, even under difficult circumstances. I keep a small memento from Kona in my office to remind me that even challenging times can lead to amazing achievements.
Q. Who was your hero when you were a child?
A. My father had a profound impact on my life. Our line of work is very hard; it’s difficult to be so many different things as a function of this job, but to balance all of that with being an outstanding human being, a virtuous man and a great father — that’s a tall order. As I’ve progressed in my training and have also become a husband and soon-to-be a father, my father becomes more and more of a hero to me.
Q. Who are your mentors?
A. As a researcher, Drs. Gaynor, Kilbaugh and Licht have all been instrumental in allowing me to realize my research goals. It required a lot of risk and a lot of money for us to go into the lab and develop models and ask the right questions. It has since become a research enterprise that I am very proud of. Those three have been so generous with their resources and time — as you would expect at a place like CHOP — and have gone above and beyond. Our body of work wouldn’t be anything without their support.
I’ve also been very fortunate to have outstanding professors throughout my education and training. That has had a profound impact on the joy I find in teaching. I look forward to teaching — and continuing to be taught — throughout my career.
Q. What are your hobbies?
A. When I was younger, my dad ran marathons, and I would occasionally get on my bike and act as his water boy. We would talk a lot, and he would give me lectures he thought were interesting. When his knee stopped him from running long distances, he switched to triathlons. I’d been interested in biking and multisport events, and we began to do them together. We’ve now been racing together for 20 years. My wife is also a triathlete, and we race together as well. I also sail, scuba dive and play squash. I enjoy hiking and being outdoors.
Q. If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
Time manipulation! It’s so hard to accomplish everything I want to accomplish in a 24-hour day. If I could just make each moment last a little bit longer, I could do so much more.