Right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Michael Puchalski, M.D., joined the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute as medical director of pediatric cardiology and co-director of the Heart Institute. Despite the challenges of moving his family from the snowy slopes of Utah to sunny Florida and changing jobs during a pandemic, he recognized this as an opportunity to lead a growing program. From common ailments to complex conditions, he explains in this latest Q&A what inspired him into the field of cardiology and how it will always remain at the heart of everything he does.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I originally wanted to be a veterinarian. Then decided I wanted to be a different type of doctor in medicine and knew I wanted to work with children. I started out with an interest in orthopaedic surgery for children but had a bad experience in medical school with vascular surgery so I went into pediatrics alone. Within pediatrics, I found that cardiology was the best fit because it balanced intensive care with the ability to follow a child for his or her whole life.
Who were your role models growing up?
My dad, he was just a great human being. He was so calm and composed, really did not get riled up so he was able to keep our family grounded. He was a unifying presence, really the glue that connected so many friends and family together. He was a friend to everyone and I think many thought they were his best friend, which is hard to do. He treated everyone the same. Everyone was important. I try an emulate these traits and too often fall short.
What’s something people might find surprising about you?
I spent time as a commercial roofer and in a flower shop in the summer to make money so I could attend college. Both jobs taught me the meaning of hard work and reminded me why I was in school in the first place. I did not want to carry hot tar or drive a truck for the rest of my life.
Do you have any interesting hobbies?
I love the outdoors, especially mountain biking. While there aren’t too many mountains in Florida to bike on, we take family rides to the beach and have picked up fishing. We also enjoy paddle boarding and watching dolphins play behind our house. I also must admit there is a fascination in our house with alligators. I guess they are like moose in Utah.
Tell us about your family.
My wife, Brenda, and I have been married 16 years, but it took some time for us to start our own family at the beginning. We were devastatingly told we couldn’t have children even after trying IVF. Like many yearning for a family, we finally looked into adoption, filed the paperwork and left for a trip to Italy. While in Italy, we got a call that we were about to be parents to a beautiful baby girl. We rushed back excited and totally unprepared, not just for Luli’s arrival, but being parents for the first time. As luck would have it, a few months later, my wife was pregnant with our son, Tristan. Our kids are now in their adolescent/teen years, and we’ve completed our family with the addition of our three dogs, cat and a bearded dragon.
What does a normal day look like for you?
I usually wake up early and stretch (bad back), let the dogs out, and then work out when I can. I get to work early and typically attend a lot of meetings, but sometimes I get to be a doctor, which is the best part. In the late evenings, I head home, eat with my family, help my kids with homework, play with the dogs and usually fall asleep before my head hits the pillow.
What's the one thing you want your patients to know?
We will give you the best care possible at every step and be with you through thick and thin.
What’s the one piece of health advice you would offer to families?
Get exercise every day, eat right and remember tomorrow is a new day to shine.