Evangeline Andarsio rediscovers the awe and mystery of medicine
The phone call came at 2 a.m. It jarred Dr. Evangeline Andarsio awake from a sound slumber.
The husband of a pregnant woman carrying twins was in a panic. His wife’s water had broken and the umbilical cord was exposed. The babies would likely die if they weren’t delivered immediately. Andarsio told the man she would meet the couple at Miami Valley Hospital to perform an emergency C-Section.
But after their arrival came more crushing news. An ultrasound image of the mother indicated that one of the babies had no heart motion and appeared to be dead.
Supported by her awaiting medical team, Andarsio quickly began the emergency C-Section, hoping the baby could be revived.
She remembers a tension in the room, but also a calming presence.
“I knew the feeling; some call it being in the zone,” Andarsio recalled. “I know it as a moment of absolute concentration and energy being focused on being there for the patient and her infant. I call it grace.”
Andarsio placed her hand in the uterus on the seemingly lifeless body of the baby and discovered the child was alive. The infant came out limp, but quickly responded to stimulus and began crying.
“That whole O.R. erupted in claps, elation,” Andarsio said. “Nurses were crying. It was a very powerful, powerful moment. It’s what you live for as a doctor, as a nurse. We knew we had witnessed something special.”
The second baby was delivered successfully, and the mother woke up to the news that her twins were doing well in the nursery.
For Andarsio, a 1984 graduate of the Boonshoft School of Medicine at Wright State University, this was one of many special moments in a 27-year medical career. And those moments, which put her “in the front-row seat of life,” also opened her eyes to the spiritual connections in medicine.
“You see the medical things that you do, but there’s something that’s so much more than that,” she said. “It’s trusting that in the good and the bad—there’s some greater aspect of life that we’re part of in the journey of that patient.”
From Cuba to Springfield, Ohio
Andarsio’s journey began as a child of Cuban parents. Her father and mother left the island nation in 1957, just before communist revolutionary Fidel Castro came to power.
The family eventually landed in Springfield, Ohio, where Andarsio’s father opened a medical practice. As a child, Evangeline would accompany her father on his rounds.
“I’d actually go into patients’ rooms as a kid, and I’d see him talking to patients,” she said. “I just really had a sense it was something I wanted to be a part of, how patients were cared for and being in such a service environment.”
But even though the seed was planted in her mind, Andarsio wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to pursue a medical career. She was also smitten by oceanography, and while a high school student decided to take a summer and study it at Florida State University.
However, visions of spending her career scuba diving in a paradise of sun-kissed,
From oceanography to medical school
So Andarsio went into pre-med at St. Louis University and later to medical school, selecting Wright State in order to be close to her ailing mother and because she ultimately wanted to practice in Ohio and give back to her community.
“I thought it was a perfect fit because it was a school that looked at not just the science, but looked at the whole person and was a more community-minded type of medical school,” she said. “It was excellent. I felt like I learned a lot.”
After graduation, Andarsio completed Miami Valley Hospital’s family practice residency program and served a residency in obstetrics and gynecology because she so enjoyed delivering babies when she was on rotation.
Dr. Luis Morales has been in practice with Andarsio since 1994.
“She is very dedicated to what she does,” Morales said. “She will do anything for her patients. And she’s very true. What you see is what you get.”
The silver-haired Andarsio is known as “Evange” to her friends and colleagues. She’s become a fixture at the hospital, working up to 80 hours a week.
From the symphony to Elvis
But Andarsio also has a fun side.
She’s a diehard Cincinnati Reds baseball fan, holding season tickets to weekend home games. She also hikes and plays golf.
Morales, not a great golfer by his own admission, recalled the time he and Andarsio were playing golf and Morales shot a 3 on a par 5, for an eagle. He said Andarsio practically did handstands because she was so happy for him.
“She was more excited than I was,” he said.
Andarsio enjoys the symphony, but is no stranger to rock ‘n’ roll. An Elvis Presley clock hangs on her office wall.
“I’m a big Elvis fan,” she confesses. “When I was younger, I used to do an Elvis impersonation. It was just a fun thing. It’s just fun music. I love music.”
From professional-liability activist to finding meaning in medicine
Andarsio’s career was nearly derailed in 2000 when skyrocketing liability insurance premiums were rocking the medical profession.
“I was really considering could I even stay in private practice,” she recalled. “And I was getting a little frustrated with all of the burdensome paperwork, the business aspect of medicine.”
She ran across a book called Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., a pediatrician who worked with doctors facing burnout. Andarsio later attended workshops at Remen’s California-based Institute for the Study of Health and Illness.
“It was a transformative experience,” she said. “It reclaimed my call to be a physician, with all of the headaches that are involved with medicine.”
It also turned Andarsio into an activist on the professional-liability issue. She spoke at rallies in Dayton and Columbus, became a delegate for the Ohio State Medical Association and an alternate delegate for the American Medical Association. She is also a former president of the Montgomery County Medical Society.
In addition, Remen’s institute sharpened Andarsio’s sense of having a spiritual connection to her patients and the need to share that with fellow doctors. She found that the basic qualities of the Hippocratic Oath of medicine are profound spiritual qualities.
She founded a Finding Meaning in Medicine group based on the spiritual values of medicine such as compassion, integrity, and service. Andarsio and fellow physicians would meet and share stories as a way to work through their emotionally wrenching experiences.
“We’ve seen deaths of patients. Where do you go with that?” Andarsio said. “Your family can’t really understand the depth of it like speaking to another physician who really walks your walk, was trained to be sleep-deprived like we’ve been, and is trying to make important decisions on an everyday basis while dealing with the stress and toll that can take.”
Andarsio, a recipient of the 2010 WSU Outstanding Alumni Award, volunteers as a clinical assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the Boonshoft School of Medicine.
She started the Wright State-sponsored Annual Medical-Spirituality Conference to explore the connections between medicine and spirituality because she believes medicine deals innately with the human spirit.
As an outgrowth of her work, Andarsio and Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine faculty members John Donnelly, M.D., Dean Parmelee, M.D., and Bruce Binder, M.D., Ph.D., started a Healer’s Art course to reinforce the spiritual values of the Hippocratic Oath in the training of medical students. To date, the Medical-Spirituality Conference has raised more than $82,000 in support of the Healer’s Art course.
The course covers wholeness and balance as well as grief and loss.
“Then we talk about the mystery and awe of medicine, things that we can’t explain in science,” she said. “We end with service, that medicine is really a service-oriented career.”
Morales said he is always amazed at how many people recognize Andarsio when she is out in public.
“I tell her she’s going to run for governor and win,” he said. “She knows everybody. No matter where you go, somebody’s going to know her.” VS