In many ways, Dr. Michael Spector, associate division director of cardiovascular surgery and pediatric cardiovascular surgeon, will always be a kid at heart. He grew up in an era of home chemistry sets, where budding chemists sometimes strayed into experiments that led to small explosions and smoke bombs. And while this may have provoked his parents, it fueled Dr. Spector’s curiosity and interests, causing him to be open to trying new things, such as becoming a magician and learning transcendental meditation.
Initially, Dr. Spector wasn’t sure about becoming a doctor. After all, he knew the long hours his father, a pediatrician who worked briefly at Akron Children’s, put in.
But while attending the University of Michigan, he decided to pursue medicine. This led to a 41-year career as a heart surgeon, the last 18 spent at Children’s after Dr. Spector and a team of clinicians and staff started the hospital’s heart center.
Throughout his career, Dr. Spector has profoundly impacted the lives of thousands of children and their families. At Children’s, his calm demeanor, encouragement and good-natured humor have provided what many heart center clinicians and staff call “a silent, peaceful glue” as they delivered family-centered cardiac care to children and adults with congenital heart defects, arrhythmia disturbances and cardiac disease.
On Aug. 31, Dr. Spector retires. He plans to enjoy more family time and pursue hobbies. He’ll also continue to volunteer with Boston Mills/Brandywine ski patrol, where he is a trained toboggan handler and ski patrol trainer, teaching professional rescuer CPR and lift evacuation courses.
What brought you to Children’s?
I came here with a team of clinicians and staff from University Hospitals to start a heart program. It was a good opportunity and allowed us to reach many children and adults with congenital heart disease.
What was going on in your life then?
In addition to work, my wife, Kathy, and I were raising our twin girls and son.
What have your biggest contributions been while here?
Starting and maintaining a successful heart program. We’ve increased the reach of the center through an affiliation agreement with Cleveland Clinic that brings together a combined team of 30 pediatric cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons. Our patients and their families have benefitted through this collaboration, particularly through discussions of patient cases and sharing best practices.
How has Akron Children’s changed since you started here?
Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defects. Before 1980, the average mortality rate for children and adults with heart defects was 10 percent. Now, it’s less than 2 percent. By opening the heart center in 2001 and expanding family-centered cardiac care to children and adults, Children’s has helped hundreds of children and adults live healthier, fuller lives than they might otherwise have experienced.
What gave you the most satisfaction at work?
At the end of the day, I know we, as a program, have greatly impacted children by giving them a better chance at life. With treatment, they do well and grow up.
What do you look forward to the most in retirement?
Golfing, shooting sporting clays, skiing and traveling. I also enjoy teaching other ski patrol volunteers about first responder emergency care and search and rescue. The education program starts in April, and volunteers receive 120 hours of training.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
A 72-degree, sunny day with low humidity, where I start my day with yoga, followed by teaching at the ski patrol or shooting sporting clays.
Do you have any advice for people just starting at Children’s?
Never stop learning. My mentor at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada, had performed hundreds of heart surgeries, yet he still looked at each one with awe. He said, “See this hole in this heart? No one hole is exactly alike in another person.” There is always more you can learn no matter how much knowledge you have.
What couldn’t you live without?
Oxygen! Beyond that, my wife and 3 children, and a good outlook.
What music do you like? Where and how do you listen to it?
I like all kinds of music. Lately, it’s whatever Dr. Robert Stewart chooses on his favorite Pandora station since we always have 2 surgeons working in tandem during surgery. I also enjoy listening to audiobooks on my drive to and from work.
What’s the last book your read?
“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou
What’s the last movie you saw?