St. Elizabeth Health Center marks 50th anniversary of the Mahoning Valley’s first open-heart surgery
By Sean Barron
If you met 52-year-old Cora E. “Betty” Rushton, it quickly would become apparent that she loves to smile, give affection and receive others’ attention.
It would be impossible to tell, however, that she wasn’t supposed to live past age 8.
“They put together a plan that saved her life,” said Rushton’s mother, Cora G. Rushton of Youngstown, referring to St. Elizabeth Health Center’s decision to repair a hole in her daughter’s heart.
In addition to making the younger Rushton well, the decision made history because it marked the Mahoning Valley’s first open-heart surgery on June 11, 1962.
Mother and daughter were the centerpieces of Monday’s dedication ceremony establishing the Dr. Edmund Massullo Cardio Vascular Intensive Care Family Waiting Room at the hospital’s CVIC unit. Monday also marked the 50th anniversary of the heart operation.
The room was named after the late Dr. Massullo, who, along with his partner, Dr. Angelo Riberi, closed a large hole in the then 2-year-old Rushton’s heart. The operation lasted more than four hours and required an artificial heart machine for part of the procedure.
“Today, we’re very grateful for what St. Elizabeth’s has done for Betty, and continues to do,” the elder Rushton said while flanked by numerous family members, relatives and friends.
Rushton recalled that her daughter suffered recurring bouts of pneumonia and had an irregular heartbeat, which led to the discovery of the hole. The Cleveland Clinic was unable to perform the surgery before Betty Rushton was admitted to St. E’s, her mother continued.
“My daughter is still going strong,” Rushton said. “She’s loving and friendly with everybody.”
The room, which features a flat-screen TV, a couch and a small table, is in honor of Dr. Massullo, who also served 10 years as the hospital’s chief of surgery and started St. E’s cardiac- surgical and intensive-care departments.
“Dr. Massullo was a pioneer in cardiac surgery,” said Don Koenig, Humility of Mary Health Partners’ executive vice president of operations. “He led the charge to develop new technologies and procedures that would enable physicians to provide better care for their patients in 1962, and he paved the way for St. Elizabeth Health Center to continue that charge into the 21st century.”
Also making remarks at Monday’s gathering were Dr. Massullo’s daughter, Anne M. Sabella, and Jim Schultis, president of the HMHP Foundation.