U.S. News and World Report ranks Boston Children’s Hospital the best in the country for pediatric cardiology, and Gerald Marx, M.D. ’72 is one of the big reasons. The winner of this year’s Paul Dudley White Award presented by the American Heart Association, Marx is internationally recognized for his consummate skill and humanity in caring for children with the most complicated and challenging forms of heart disease.
Associate Professor in Pediatrics at the Harvard School of Medicine and Senior Associate in Cardiology at Boston Children’s, Marx is also Director of Ultrasound Imaging Research. He has written more than 180 peer-reviewed publications, chapters of books, reviews, and editorials—and has lectured throughout the Americas and as far away as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, China, Japan, Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom. He has been continuously listed in the Best Doctors in America since 1998. And, says the American Heart Association, he is a “tireless volunteer,” currently serving as president of the board of the organization’s Founder’s Affiliate.
Not surprisingly, Marx’s definition of success “is to do what you really enjoy and to make a difference. I never thought of wanting to be ‘successful,’” he says. “I just knew I wanted to be a doctor. I loved my science courses. Of course, wanting to be a doctor gets tempered with reality when you arrive at college and there are many others who want to be doctors, too. But I never felt I had to compete with anyone else. I just had to do the best I could.
“I enjoyed my classes, my teachers, and what I was learning,” Marx continues. “I was sure I wanted to go to medical school. That was my goal—and I was going to try and do anything to make that possible. And yet, I really wasn’t looking for getting into medical school as the end point. I just enjoyed being in the now.”
At Ohio Wesleyan, Marx began his progress toward his M.D. with professors who encouraged him. “When I arrived saying I wanted to be in pre-med, my first trimester was pretty much configured for me. The university threw me into the thick of it, and my professors in organic chemistry, calculus and psychology were especially helpful,” he says. “I remember asking my psych professor, Dr. Harvey Freeman, if I should become a psychologist or psychiatrist. He said the future of mental health probably was in pharmacology so I should definitely go to medical school.”
Marx received a different kind of encouragement a little later, he says. “My chemistry professor, Dr. Wick, came to me in my junior year and said, ‘You know, you haven’t asked me to write a letter of recommendation for you.’ I said that it hadn’t occurred to me, and he said, ‘Well, I want to write one.’ I don’t know if that happens in larger schools, but it did at Ohio Wesleyan. It was a stimulating and exciting time, and the entire environment, from classes to professors to friendships I developed helped me get into medical school. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without Ohio Wesleyan.”
Today, as a ground-breaking practitioner in the use of three-dimensional echocardiography, Marx has brought this technology to the day-to-day practice of medicine, from the clinic to the operating room. “I’ve been very lucky to be part of the continuing development of this noninvasive technology.
“We have been able to make innovative strides in the development and application of three-dimensional echocardiography to congenital heart disease. In collaboration with engineers and computer scientists, we were the first laboratory to report the feasibility of performing three-dimensional echocardiography in pediatric patients.”
Marx also has been involved in the mind-boggling field of in utero cardiac interventions and is helping to analyze the results of more than 100 of these procedures.
What Marx most enjoys about his work today is “interacting with patient and families and also the tremendous intellectual challenge. These patients present with complex congenital issues, so the challenge is figuring out which diagnostic testing is appropriate, what interventions should be undertaken, and the right timing of those interventions. Of course, there’s tremendous emotion tied up in it—and it’s a very painstaking process.
“There’s anticipation about the surgery,” Marx says, “but even when it goes well, you still don’t know how ultimately it will turn out. The child may need more surgery, more catheterizations, and constant care and surveillance for the remainder of his or her life. On the best days, it is, extraordinarily rewarding when the surgery goes well, the patients do well, and leave the hospital—and when I see these children in the clinic, they’re feeling well and participating in life. The worst days, of course, are when a child dies.”
This year has been particularly gratifying, Marx says, because many of his early pediatric patients are going off to college. “These patients might have had up to four surgeries and four catheterizations, yet here they are on their way to a satisfying life,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll get pictures of former patients on their first day of kindergarten or at high school graduation. That gives me a great feeling of satisfaction.”