A Broadway performer. An accomplished pianist. A dedicated marathoner. A third-degree black belt. An award-winning filmmaker. A water-skier with all the right moves. A high-flying fighter pilot physician. Doctors from across the state open up about their off-script origin stories and lives outside the office.
The Piano Man
Dr. Michael Coady
Chief of cardiac surgery at Stamford Health and co-director of its Heart & Vascular Institute
Dr. Michael Coadyknows better than most that there’s more than one way to a person’s heart. As a matter of fact, he is quite skilled, both literally and figuratively, at several of them.
As chief of cardiac surgery at Stamford Health and co-director of its Heart & Vascular Institute, Coady is as hands-on as it gets when it comes to our tickers. Leaky valve? Arrhythmia? Artery in serious need of a bypass? Coady, who has earned a medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine, completed surgical residencies at both Yale and Stanford, and performed more than 4,600 surgeries over the past two decades, is your guy.
It is not, however, Coady’s performance in the operating theater that has earned him standing ovations. Those have come as a result of his magical, but at the same time methodical, way with keys both black and white. In fact, Coady, who has been tickling the ivories since he was knee-high to a baby grand, made his debut at Carnegie Hall in January 2020 and, in a moving performance that melded both his worlds, joined the Stamford Symphony this past October for Together Again, a virtual concert that honored the heroic work of health care workers at Stamford Health during the pandemic.
The divide between Coady’s twin passions in life is, according to the good doctor, not all that wide. “There’s a very strong connection between music and medicine,” he says. An “art to surgery” and science behind sound, if you will. “An intense emotional connection between the music on the page, the artist playing that music and the people who are listening to it,” Coady says. “It’s intoxicating.”
At the same time, “my job in medicine is about emotional connection and communication, as well,” he says. “When a patient is sitting in my office, they are nervous. They need to trust me, and I need to be receptive to how they feel. Of all medicine, open-heart surgery is the most intense. I don’t think there’s anything more intimate than the trust involved with stopping someone’s heart.”
Then, of course, there’s technical ability. In writing a reference letter for Coady’s application to medical school, a mentor at Bennington College in Vermont, where Coady double-majored in piano performance and math, told prospective admissions officers that “the way in which I approach music lends itself to medicine,” Coady recalls. In the years since, he has not proven her wrong.
“Heart surgery, like music, is highly complex,” Coady says. Both require supreme focus, dedication, precision and, yes, nimble fingers. When done well, the level of concentration required becomes so intense that you enter what Coady calls “a flow state.” At that point, whether it’s a Beethoven sonata or an aortic dissection being performed, you’re “in the zone,” Coady says, and, inevitably, in a place where you leave a lasting impression.