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John Kupferschmid, Mathematics, Alumni

Pediatric cardiac surgeon makes connection through mathematics

John Kupferschmid | 1978 Alumnus, B.S. Mathematics, Pre-Med | Department of Mathematical Sciences Studying mathematics may not be the most common path to a medical career, but for John Kupferschmid, M.D., it built his spatial reasoning for tasks such as crafting valves for the tiniest of hearts.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1978 as a pre-med student, Kupferschmid attended the IU School of Medicine. Today he is a pediatric cardiac surgeon for Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas.

“Mathematics is among other things a very in detailed study of processes and systems,” he said. “It gives you the tools for logical reasoning—and that really is what medicine is—a system of processes and reasoning.”

Kupferschmid made the decision in his third year of undergraduate studies to apply for medical school. When he started at the IU School of Medicine, he participated in a new program that paired students with physicians for experiential learning. Kupferschmid was paired with John Brown, M.D., a surgeon who specializes in congenital heart disease. That’s when Kupferschmid fell in love with pediatric cardiac surgery.

In his 30-year career, Kupferschmid has seen the field change immensely with highly successful treatments.

“These are very vulnerable babies,” he said. “There is almost nothing now we can’t make better.”

In 2014, Kupferschmid completed about 350 heart surgeries and will likely exceed 400 surgeries this year.

What many people don’t know is almost 1 percent of babies, are born with a heart problem, he said. Most of those required staged operation, meaning a child may need three surgeries to repair the heart.

One of the most rewarding aspects of his job is “seeing kids two, three years later and how they have grown past their disease.”

Kupferschmid stays in contact with the children and their families. He’s been known to go to little league games, and fills scrapbooks with letters and notes from these former patients.

Making an impact globally

Beyond Texas, Kupferschmid is making an impact for children around the world. He travels abroad regularly to perform operations.

When his friend and fellow pediatric cardiologist Kirk Milhoan, M.D., started an organization called For Hearts and Souls, Kupferschmid quickly became involved.

Through the organization, Kupferschmid participates in programs in Mongolia, Kosovo and Iraq. He travels abroad a couple times a year as part of a team that performs operations, while training surgeons in these regions.

These trips last a week and consist of surgeries scheduled back-to-back—with a waiting list in case time become available. Kupferschmid pays for the trips himself and ships as much as a $1 million of equipment to these regions each year.

Kupferschmid has seen the mortality rate for heart conditions decrease dramatically in these clinics, thanks to For Hearts and Souls.