Brain surgeon Dr. Andrew Parsa dies at 48
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Dr. Andrew Parsa combined intellect, skill and a kind bedside manner, a blend some say is rarely found in surgeons.
Dr. Parsa, the chair of neurological surgery at the Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, died unexpectedly Monday at his Lincoln Park home, relatives said. He was 48. A cardiac problem may have been the cause, said his brother, Tim.
He performed 300 operations a year and mentored young physicians. He researched ways to unleash the body’s immune system to fight brain cancer. And he was the chief investigator in the biggest randomized trial funded by the National Cancer Institute on a potential brain tumor vaccine, according to the Feinberg School.
He was “a luminary on the surgery front,” his brother said, “helping patients that are in dire straits, and helping them recover in the hardest, scariest juncture of their lives. And he would do that 300 times a year. Trying to cure the disease, he worked on efforts to find a vaccine. At the same time, he was a dedicated father raising three kids, and a dedicated husband.”
“He was extraordinarily approachable,” said his sister, Dr. Tania Parsa. “He wasn’t talking over you. He was talking to you.”
He gave patients his cellphone number and knew the names of everyone from the operating room staff to security guards, according to a story in Northwestern Medicine Magazine.
Last July, his team released the latest results on the study into a brain tumor vaccine, showing it helped certain patients live longer.
A year ago, he discussed the research with the Chicago Sun-Times. He hoped a vaccine would “turn a terminal disease into a chronic disease. I don’t say ‘cure,’ but just like diabetes, just like heart disease, something we can live with.”
He also appeared in a video produced by the hospital to discuss his treatment of one patient’s brain tumor.
After he was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Dr. Parsa’s family moved to Connecticut, where he graduated from New Canaan High School.
Dr. Parsa earned a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University. He always pushed himself, his brother said. “He took the most difficult science major, molecular biochemistry and biophysics,” Tim Parsa said. “Surgery is considered challenging, and neurosurgery is the most challenging specialty.”
Dr. Parsa received his medical degree at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn and did an internship and residency in neurological surgery at Columbia University, where he met his future wife, Dr. Charlotte Shum, an orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial.
Their courtship was similar to that of his parents, who also met at a hospital. His mother, Micheline, was a nurse. His father, Dr. Ismail Parsa, an Iranian immigrant, was a pathologist who researched pancreatic cancer, Dr. Tania Parsa said. His studies contributed to the field of kidney transplants, Tim Parsa said.
Outside of work, Dr. Parsa enjoyed running and playing host. “He loved opening good, red bottles of wine for his friends and family, at home or at restaurants,” his brother said.
Most of all, he enjoyed spending time with his wife and their three young children — a son, Ismail, and twin daughters Julia and Micheline.
Before joining Feinberg in 2013, he worked for a decade at the University of California San Francisco.
“We are all shocked and saddened by this great loss,” said Dr. Eric G. Neilson, vice president for medical affairs and a dean at the Feinberg School. “Andy was a distinguished scholar, an extraordinarily talented surgeon and a dedicated mentor to students and faculty alike.”
A celebration of his life is scheduled for Saturday. A memorial service for colleagues is planned Friday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.