Medicine at the heart of a grandfather's legacy

Granddaughter of pacemaker co-creator J.C. Callaghan will graduate as physician on June 7

Raquel Maurier - 6 June 2013

John Carter Callaghan is world renowned for his cardiac firsts. He conducted the first open-heart surgery in Canada; was the first surgeon in the country to repair a 'blue baby malformation;' and co-created the cardiac pacemaker. He retired from the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry in the mid-1980s, and now, in the medical school's centennial year, his granddaughter will graduate as a physician - the only relative in his family to follow in his footsteps as a doctor.

Natasha Hajduk, 25, will accept her medical degree on June 7, shortly before moving to Calgary where she will start her residency in family medicine. She says her grandfather's legacy inspired her to become a doctor.

"My parents always told me about his accomplishments. And in Grade 6, I did a project on him for school. I have always been very proud of him and his legacy. That was always instilled in me. And he is part of the reason I went into medicine.

"I also really enjoy the science of medicine. In Grade 12, I really enjoyed learning about hormones and the body and how everything worked together. I was curious to find out more about the human body and also had a strong desire to help people. Being a doctor is a nice way of tying all of that together."

During her clerkship, Hajduk did a rotation on the cardiac surgery ward. On the ward was a statue of her grandfather, as well as many plaques commemorating his achievements.

"And when I spoke to cardiac surgeons, they would immediately tell a story about how he inspired them, or how compassionate he was and how he cared about his patients - that was a great experience, to hear all those stories."

Callaghan came to the University of Alberta in 1955 as a lecturer in surgery and performed the two historic surgical procedures in 1956. A few years later, he accepted additional roles in the faculty in the Department of Surgery as assistant clinical professor and head of the division of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery. He stayed in these positions until his retirement.

Looking forward, Hajduk says she is excited about her family medicine residency because she likes the idea of having long-term physician-patient relationships.

"You get to know your patients over a long period of time - some of them right from when they are babies until they are having their own children. I thought that was a great way to get to know your patients and help them meet their different milestones, and keep them healthy."

She says she is also excited about convocating during the medical school's centennial year, because it is such a significant milestone and one that her grandfather would have been proud of.

"I think he would have been have been really proud of this achievement, and proud that there is another physician in the Callaghan family."