30 years of caring for hearts

Mike Perlstein looks back after three decades of being one of the "Leaders and Best"

echo tech - mike perlsteinFebruary 7, 2014, marked the last day Mike Perlstein came to work at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Since he joined the University of Michigan Health System in 1980, Mike has been a welcome fixture in the Congenital Heart Center. While he is looking forward to the freedom retirement brings, he looks back on his time caring for hearts at Mott fondly. As part of our Heart Month series of blog posts, we caught up with Mike to talk with him about his 3-decade legacy with the Leaders and Best for kids.

Q. How did you get started in a healthcare career?

A. After three years of military service I worked for a time at a foundry in my hometown of South Haven, Michigan. But I had wanted to move back to Ann Arbor, which I eventually did in early 1974, landing a position in the Drafting Department of Space Physics Research Lab on our North Campus. During my four years there, a developing interest in firefighting led me, ultimately, to entry into an Emergency Medical Technician program. It was there that “the lights went on,” and I was drawn to this field where I thought I could do something that could make a difference.

Q. What brought you to the University of Michigan Health System?

A. While I found great satisfaction in the patient care aspect of working in the EMT field, I also decided that I had seen enough after a few years. I began my career at University of Michigan Health System in old main hospital in November 1980 where I worked for just a few months before a stroke of incredible good fortune brought me an opportunity in the summer of 1981 to begin work in Pediatric Cardiology at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. For 15 years I worked in the EKG lab before then moving to our Echo lab in January of 1996.

Q. What is echo?

A. It is short for echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound study of the heart. An echo allows us to see how well a heart is functioning, if there are any congenital anomalies, as well as evaluate its status following surgical procedures. Echocardiograms enable us to evaluate the heart in fetuses, as well as in patients of all ages with a history of congenital heart disease.

Q. Have you developed any strategies for getting children to relax and cooperate during an echo?

A. I have done everything I could think of to set patients at ease, hoping to make them feel comfortable and know they are in the company of people who care about them. For children, I have always been willing to make a fool of myself if it could get them to laugh and feel just a bit more at ease. I have stood on my head (in my younger days of course), performed echos on dolls and stuffed animals, worn electrodes as earrings and nose adornments, and have often promised my patients that, to be fair, if they allowed me to squirt the gel on their chest and get the pictures I need, at the end of the test they could squeeze out a big glob of echo gel on my nose when we were done. That has been my ace in the hole as it nearly always works (and they always love the payback).

I have often given them the transducer at the start of the study, enabling them to take their own “heart picture.” And with a little wink and whispered help from Mom and Dad I could put the transducer on their stomach and tell them what they had for breakfast or lunch, even tracing a picture of that chicken nugget or the Cheerios.

Q. Sounds like you really enjoy the work.

A. I always have. I am going to very much miss working at Mott. I work with a group of genuinely compassionate people who care for patients and their families always with an unwavering dedication to kindness, gentleness and preservation of dignity. My years here have been an uplifting experience, and I will very much miss working in a place with such a deep and abiding sense of community and connection with patients, and with one another.

Q. What advances have most impressed you over the years?

A. Seeing how treatments have evolved over the years has been fascinating, and how the outcomes are so much better, so much more often than in the early days. Heart transplant, at one time impossible in the pediatric patient, has moved from initially very limited results to highly successful outcomes today. The striking advances in surgical palliation and repair of complex diagnoses such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome and transposition of the great arteries have been amazing. And with the improvements in imaging technology, we can now diagnose complex lesions more accurately than ever in the prenatal period, making preparation and more effective treatment possible. Having a front row seat and being audience to these achievements has been grand.

Q. How was the move to the new Mott Hospital?

A. It was a smoothly run, well-organized process that resulted in a complete transition to this beautiful new hospital in just a few days. With it came all of the benefits of the innovations of progress. Only one example, of many, is the presence of a fiber-optic network making it possible for our cardiologists to view all echo studies that are in progress, hospital-wide, from a central imaging room location.

Q. So what’s next for you?

A. A great deal of travel, places to where I would like to return, and exploration of so many I have not yet seen. A return to some old passions has a draw. In the past I did a great deal of backpacking, mostly in remote areas of the Desert Southwest where I would like to return, complete with backpack (if I am not too creaky and out of shape). If I am deluding myself, I can always stick to the day hike with a hotel at trail’s end.

My wife, Geri, who is really energetic as well as curious about a myriad of destinations, places a high premium on world travel and, in general, NOT allowing me to remain in low gear for too long. Her extensive itinerary will keep us busy for many years.

Q. Any parting words for the patients you have cared for over the years and those who will walk through the doors of Mott in the future?

A. Somehow, at some time in the past while exploring life, I stumbled in to a wonderful place where I spent nearly 33 years with people who, while they were themselves in the process of negotiating the difficulties of their illness or, for parents, their child’s illness, shared with me accounts of their experiences, their fears, their joys, their gratitude and best of all, their friendship, all while allowing me to be some small part of their care. There are no words that can adequately express my gratitude to all of them.

For the patients and families of the future whose misfortune it will be to have to deal with the trials of congenital heart disease, know this:

You can rest a bit easier that you are here, at the Congenital Heart Center at Mott Children’s Hospital. You have arrived at an oasis where your affliction is not unfamiliar territory, where there are people who will know what to do, where you can count on being treated with dignity, kindness, and warmth. Take heart.

Thank you to all.

– Mike

The leadership, faculty and staff of the Congenital Heart Center at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital would like to thank Mike for his legacy of kindness, compassion and service.  Hail!

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best children's hospitalUniversity of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital is consistently ranked one of the best hospitals in the country. It was nationally ranked in all ten pediatric specialties in U.S. News Media Group’s “America’s Best Children’s Hospitals,” and among the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by Parents Magazine. In December 2011, the hospital opened our new 12-story, state-of-the-art facility offering cutting-edge specialty services for newborns, children and women.