It’s not every day that an astronaut spends his or her morning instructing hospital grand rounds, but NASA’s Commander Christopher Cassidy did exactly that for an audience that crowded Bornstein Amphitheater—and crouched in aisles and peered through the A/V booth to see him—late last year.
“It’s really special for me to be here because in this hospital, my dad’s life was saved, thanks to Dr. Aranki and Dr. Adler,” said Cassidy, who grew up in York, Maine. “And years ago, my youngest son, now a freshman in high school, was born here.”
Early last year, Cassidy’s father, Jack, received triple bypass surgery at BWH. While Jack was preparing for surgery and a stay in the Cardiac Surgery ICU, his care team, led by cardiac surgeon Sary Aranki, MD, and cardiologist Dale Adler, MD, and his family arranged for him and his son, who was aboard the International Space Station, to connect via video chat.
“While I was in space, I’d have a family video conference with my wife and kids in Houston about once a week,” said Cassidy. “When my dad was in the hospital, I was concerned, so being able to connect with him and his doctors was great. It was comforting to see with my own eyes that he was OK, and I think it gave him a boost.”
Added Adler: “The whole process of connecting to Commander Cassidy while he was in space was striking. It was just like talking to someone nearby. He gave us a tour of the space station. I felt honored to be part of something that was very remarkable.”
A Navy SEAL selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 2004, Cassidy was invited by BWH’s Department of Surgery upon his return from space to present on the wonders and challenges of living in space and how the human body adapts. During the visit, he was also able to meet with his father’s extended care team in Shapiro.
Cassidy, who completed his first mission in space aboard the International Space Station in 2009 and his second in 2013, compared astronaut training to being in school, learning everything he could about the station and its systems. In his downtime, he watched movies, read and looked out the station’s window at breathtaking views of the Earth and space surrounding him. He said his favorite part of the missions were six-hour spacewalks, during which he left the confines of the station to repair equipment, and of course, get an even better view of space.
As for Jack, he is recovering well and proud of his son: “As ironic as it may seem, Chris’ feet are firmly planted on the ground. He has become a friend more than a son, and a mentor to me. Of course, it’s always nice when he asks his dad for advice,” he said, smiling.
Cassidy’s next opportunity to return to space is likely a few years away. His role is now supporting the crews currently on the space station with their technical needs from Houston. View his grand rounds presentation.