Author + information
- Department of Cardiology, Barts Heart Center, London, United KingdomDepartment of Cardiology, Barts Heart Center, London, United Kingdom
- ↵∗Address for correspondence:
Dr. Julia Grapsa, Editor-in-Chief, JACC: Case Reports, Barts Health NHS Trust, West Smithfield, London EC1A 7BE, United Kingdom.
When I was a child in Athens, Greece, influenced by my father—a professor of mechanical engineering—and my brother, my dream was to become an aircraft mechanical engineer. I was in love with physics and math, especially geometry. Interestingly, my father loved medicine, and in his spare time he would read medical books. He was a dedicated educator, an amazing mentor, and everywhere we would go, students would stop him on the street to express their gratitude.
By the time I was 12 years old, my father had taught my brother and me how to measure blood pressure with a manual cuff, in case of an emergency. For us, it was a game with sounds, and it made us feel important. One day, my grandmother called me and said, “I think your grandfather has slurred speech; can you please check his blood pressure?” So, I got on my bicycle and went to their house to measure his blood pressure. It was high. I helped him take his antihypertensive medications, and we called the ambulance. Acting promptly, he was left with only mild right-sided weakness. That was when I realized the value of saving someone’s life, and I began to think about becoming a physician.
I studied hard and was accepted into the Ioannina Medical School, where I was inspired by the cardiologists—especially Professor Constantine Anagnostopoulos, my professor of cardiothoracic surgery—to pursue cardiology. In my spare time as a medical student, I would attend open heart surgeries and was fascinated by the heart beating so vigorously and in such a lively manner.
When I graduated from medical school, I asked my parents if I could go to London to stay with a friend. My parents agreed and gave me $100 spending money. When I arrived in London and realized that the Tube ticket was almost $7, I said to myself, “OK, we have a problem.” I went to the Greek community in Bayswater and became a waitress in a Greek restaurant. After a month, I started working unpaid, with an honorary contract, at Hammersmith Hospital hoping to get trained in echocardiography. I roamed the hospital all day with an old portable machine until 5 pm, when I would go to work at the Greek restaurant until midnight, washing plates, making the best Greek coffee in town, and cleaning the yard. It was a very challenging time. I remember the handwritten letters that I would send to my best friend back home describing the blisters on my hands and how tired I was, but I kept saying, “I will manage.” I would either go back to Greece defeated or I would stay and make it work. In my spare time, I was translating documents from English into Greek and I babysat. I got my first laptop computer as payment for the translation of a congenital heart disease textbook. Unfortunately, I was too young at the time to understand the rules of academia and therefore I was never acknowledged for the translation. But I was happy I had a refurbished laptop to work on.
My first years in London were challenging, but I loved echocardiography and clinical cardiology. As a junior trainee, I was going around with the portable echo machine, scanning cardiothoracic patients after surgery. The surgeons started trusting my skills, and when I told them there was blood around the atria, they would re-explore the patient to evacuate the blood. One of the consultants finally offered me a paid job as a junior doctor—almost a year later—and I started my training in cardiology. Since then, my life has had ups and downs like the waves on an electrocardiogram. When I was trying to get funding for my research thesis, I wrote approximately 40 applications and managed to get my first research grant through the European Society of Cardiology. Overall, I had to knock on many doors in order to have a few open for me.
I have always been committed to education and training. I was first involved with the European Society of Cardiology as an ambassador for imaging from Greece and organized a hands-on course on 3-dimensional echocardiography and speckle tracking. I did a lot of night call shifts to pay the cost of the course. A few months later, I became the chair for the Early Career Cardiologists in Cardiovascular Imaging. That was an amazing time. I had the opportunity to work together with 60 brilliant ambassadors. I realized that I was not the only one who struggled with training, who worked disproportionally hard to thrive, and who felt overmentored but underpromoted. We had a lot in common with regard to our concerns, doubts, and feelings. Gradually, we built our own professional network, and I feel honored that many of them will work with me on JACC: Case Reports.
The last 2 years have been particularly difficult for me. For a time, I was working in a hard, unbalanced work environment that did not help my growth as a doctor or as a human being. Last year, my father died of acute thrombosis of his bioprosthetic aortic valve. He died a few hours after walking into the hospital. I was flying home to see him, but when I reached the hospital, they informed me that he was in cardiac arrest. The roles were suddenly reversed, and I was now the relative knocking on the hospital room door to get in so that I could see him, in absolute despair. My heart breaks when I recall that the last message from the caregiver I received while boarding the plane was, “Don’t worry. He is stable.” I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye.
I attended the American College of Cardiology (ACC) Annual Meeting in 2018 in Orlando to receive my FACC diploma and also won the prize for best international abstract. The moment an ACC staff member gave me the diploma, I couldn’t contain my tears. I would give my entire life to bring my father back to share this recognition with him. I looked at the legends of cardiology who were sitting in the first row, and I said to myself, “Don’t give up. You also deserve to be sitting in the front row.” The moment I went back to my workplace, I submitted my resignation without having an alternate job. Luckily, there have been several people who supported me, gave me courage, and most importantly, gave me hope when I thought there was no hope. It was their encouragement that made a difference and kept me scientifically alive. Drs. Patrizio Lancellotti, William Zoghbi, Judy Hung, Jagat Narula, Michael Picard, and Robert Levine have been great mentors. An offer for a 1-year fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston was the opportunity I needed to unlock my future. It is important to know that people believe in you. It gives you the power you need to move forward. In June 2018, a UK job was advertised, and I am now working with great colleagues who believe in me and my expertise. I am now a consultant cardiologist at Barts Health NHS Trust, head of the echocardiography department at The Royal London Hospital, and associate professor at University College London. Life changes quickly, and even if we descend into despair, I would wish we never lose hope or our “faith” that life will get better.
It was a night in early February 2019 when I received a call from the Journal editorial office that I had been chosen as the inaugural Editor-in-Chief of JACC: Case Reports. After a minute of silence, I asked, “Are you sure? Because I never expected I would get it.” When I learned it was true, I immediately thought of my father, along with the advice he would have given me and how proud he would have been. Every small win in my life is dedicated to my beloved parents who taught me empathy, honesty, and hard work, and most importantly, to love my patients and myself. Even though it is hard sometimes, we should always look onward and upward. Please remember that.
The potential of this JACC: Case Reports is huge. We wish to embrace fellows-in-training and early career cardiologists and to build bridges between junior and senior cardiologists through clinical cases. We want to hear your story, how you have experienced medicine or, more specifically, cardiology. That is why we have the new section Voices in Cardiology—to emphasize the humanity of the patient and the doctor through art, poetry, and personal stories regarding intellectual awaking, spiritual growth, challenges, mentorship, and professional development. This platform is an opportunity to share the human experience of being a cardiologist on a personal level and to complement the great clinical science that will be reflected in excellent case reports that we select for publication.
Every day, we learn from life, we learn from each other, and we hope to learn from you…it is now time to listen to your needs, to your story.
Dr. Grapsa has reported that she has no relationships relevant to the contents of this paper to disclose.
- 2019 The Author