Robicsek Family

| one month ago

A [Grand]Father’s Legacy

As an internationally renowned heart surgeon and philanthropist, Dr. Francis Robicsek dedicated his life to caring for others. He spent more than 75 years advancing cardiac care, including founding what’s now Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. He inspired future generations of health care leaders around the world – including members of his own family.

As a pioneer in cardiac surgery, Dr. Francis Robicsek was one of the first to perform heart bypass operations in the 1950s at what is now known as Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center. He even performed the Carolinas’ first heart transplant in Charlotte in 1986 and founded what’s now Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute.

When he died in 2020 at the age of 94, his wish was to be laid to rest in his scrubs. His family legacy continues at Atrium Health, now part of Advocate Health, through the work of his sons and his granddaughter, Anna Robicsek, a medical student who, like her grandfather, just declared surgery as her area of focus.

“When I began medical school, I was nervous to declare surgery as my focus,” Anna recalls. “My grandfather left such a widespread legacy that I wasn’t sure I would not be able to live up to the Robicsek name. But on the first day of my first clinical rotation in medical school, I stepped into the operating room and immediately knew what path I would take in my career. I was absolutely and completely in love with being in the OR.”

“Anna spent a lot of time with my father growing up,” recalls Anna’s father and Francis Robicsek’s youngest son, John Robicsek. “He was thrilled with Anna’s decision to go to medical school. He didn’t get to see her get accepted, but he spoke with her about it often and was beyond the moon for her to carve her own path in medicine.”

“My grandfather had this ever-so-slight smile that was infectious, and it was always present when he would share stories and advice about being a physician,” Anna recalls. “He was incredibly humble about the profession. He never boasted about personal achievements, but rather focused on the bonds he shared with colleagues and patients.”

While applying to medical school, Anna worked as a medical scribe at Atrium Health Levine Cancer and did medical research in Georgia. Her path eventually led her to the Medical College of Georgia, where she’s a fourth-year medical student. This summer, she’s doing an away rotation in surgery through the Wake Forest University School of Medicine at Carolinas Medical Center, walking the same halls as her famous grandfather once did.

“It’s nice to know she’s exposed to the same hospital and the same department where her grandfather worked for so many years,” John says, “but with the opportunity to chart her own course while working alongside and learning from some of the best surgeons in the country.”

“When I am in the hospital interacting with patients, or in the OR, I feel a connection with my grandfather,” Anna says. “I know he would be so proud to see the doctor I am becoming.”

John chose a path in business and the pharmaceutical industry and has worked at Atrium Health for the past 15 years.

He’s now assistant vice president of program development, specialty pharmacy service at Atrium Health.

“Where else?” John laughs. “This is the health system I was born into – literally – I was born at Carolinas Medical Center and grew up witnessing the many great accomplishments my father achieved from his ‘home base’ in Charlotte for the communities he served. I’m proud to try to carry on his legacy here.”

Francis and his wife, Lilly, who was also a physician at Atrium Health, raised their four children in Charlotte, where they prioritized family. When John first started working at Atrium Health, he often met his dad for lunch.

John’s older brother, Steven, also a physician, is a professor of anesthesiology living in Florida. Steven continues their father’s legacy by serving as President of the Heineman-Robicsek Foundation with John also contributing as a board member.

Beginning in the 1960s, Francis Robicsek helped establish cardiac surgery in Guatemala as well as supporting numerous hospitals, medical clinics and pediatric intensive care programs throughout Central America and the Caribbean. Steven Robicsek continues that work through the Heineman-Robicsek Foundation and its partnership with Atrium Health through the International Medical Outreach program. This collaboration provides medical and educational assistance globally to promote sustainable health care services and enhanced standards of living in underserved communities.

“This is truly my father’s legacy, and we are so proud to see it continue,” John says.

That legacy inspired Anna’s journey as well, as she visited underserved areas with her grandfather and father while growing up.

“I developed a fascination with being able to have such an impact on a patient’s life and knew I wanted to be a part of this profession,” Anna says. “The legacy my grandfather accomplished has made me so proud to be a part of it. He has shown us how impactful a physician can be and sets a high bar for what can be accomplished as a surgeon, inventor and humanitarian.”

The Robicsek family will continue that legacy through their humanitarian work while Dr. Robicsek’s impact on the field of medicine inspires a new generation of surgeons, including Anna, who will always remember her grandfather’s advice.

“While this is a taxing profession, do not take every day so seriously and work in a joke (or two) when possible,” she says. “Work hard, grow your skills, but never forget the power laughter and happiness can bring to the lives of your patients, colleagues and your own life.”

Anna will continue to follow that advice, along with all of Francis Robicsek’s children, grandchildren. But his impact extends far beyond his family, reaching thousands of former patients and their families whose lives he changed forever. A father’s legacy truly realized.