It was the first day on a new rotation as resident-on-call for Michael H. Mendeszoon, M.D. At the time, he was an intern at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. On that particular day, he was working in the operating room when suddenly a patient was rushed in, medical staff running alongside the stretcher while feverishly trying to keep him alive. The patient had suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm, a condition that causes severe pain, massive internal bleeding and, without prompt treatment, death.
“A person with this condition would have about a 95 percent chance of dying either in transit, upon arrival at the hospital or once they’ve made it to the operating table,” says Dr. Mendeszoon, recalling the day as one of the most memorable in his career as an anesthesiologist.
The patient was bleeding profusely and the medical team took diligently to the task of saving his life, applying their skills separately, yet in precise harmony. The work of the attending anesthesiologist stood out most for Mendeszoon, and, to his amazement and delight, the patient survived despite odds stacked heavily against him. “That day, I knew that I had chosen the right field. The attending anesthesiologist coordinated his intense knowledge of human physiology, pharmacology and bioengineering, and he was able to control the outcome and save someone’s life,” Mendeszoon says.
The first physician in his immediate family, Mendeszoon today is the medical director of perioperative services at Kings County Hospital Center, Brooklyn, with responsibility for all of the attendant staff and pre-, intra- and post-surgery operations, which include nursing, housekeeping, technical support and biomedical technicians. In his approach to his work, he is driven by the belief that “if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem.”
His cousin, Frank Ognelodh, who today is an orthopedic surgeon, persuaded him to pursue a career in medicine. The two shared a great passion for the field of science and, as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, Mendeszoon volunteered in the emergency room at a nearby hospital. “That did it for me,” Mendeszoon says, explaining that the experience fueled his desire to enter the field of medicine even more. “People came in with great need and the staff was able to help them. This had a profound effect on me. At that time, I never knew that the sciences could be applied in a way that allowed you to improve the human condition.”
The work of an anesthesiologist is very intricate, requiring an immense understanding of various medical specialties. “You are basically putting patients in a coma and giving them amnesia. You have to make them comfortable and make sure they don’t remember going through the surgery. You are their critical-care person. Their lives are in your hands.” says Mendeszoon, recalling attempts to dissuade him from entering the field.
Most people assume that patients rarely remember their anesthesiologist. However, explains Mendeszoon, the perioperative care an anesthesiologist provides requires much more interaction than they realize. Generally, anesthesiologists are involved with treating patients from the moment the patients enter the hospital to the time they arrive home. They work with patients prior to surgery in order to make appropriate assessments in their preparation for medical procedures, and they must always be informed of what the surgeon is doing with the patient at every stage of the procedure. Often, the anesthesiologist’s calming voice is the last voice a patient hears before the anesthesia takes effect and the first voice the patient hears upon awakening. Checking in on patients when they are recuperating at home is also an important part of the anesthesiologist’s role.
Mendeszoon joined Kings County Hospital in November 1995 as the clinical director of anesthesiology and after one year was promoted to chief of anesthesiology. In September 2000, he was appointed to his current position as medical director of perioperative services. He was instrumental in revamping the hospital’s entire program for perioperative-care program. At the time, the hospital’s CEO, Jean Leon, was bent on changing the way business was done. Mendeszoon introduced a model called “product line management” and was given the green light to implement it, a move that ultimately transformed his department into a more efficient operation. He recruited new staff, seeking out the best and the brightest talent he could acquire. “I believe we provide the best anesthesia care in all of Brooklyn,” he boasts.
In 2009, New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., the $6.7 billion system that operates the city’s public hospitals and clinics, hired consultants to come up with a breakthrough process to make the system more productive and efficient. Mendeszoon’s model proved helpful in managing the new process. He served as chair of the corporation’s preoperative task force and participated in the development and implementation of the Surgical Safety Checklist, currently used at 11 of the group’s medical facilities. He continues to serve on the safety strategic task force. In March 2009, HHC presented him with the Doctor’s Award, adding to the myriad accolades he has received for his work, including an award for “outstanding leadership and dedication” as president of the Medical Board, from Kings County Hospital Center; an “America’s Top Physicians” award, granted by the Consumers’ Research Council of America; “Businessman of the Year,” awarded by the Business Advisory Council, and the “Health Service Administrator Award” from local Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr.
The accolades are well deserved, for Mendeszoon is focused on the well-being of a patient at all times. “The one thing that you cannot compromise is the safety of the patient and customer service. I stress that the patient is satisfied. We treat them with respect and do our best to preserve their dignity,” he says.
But he is equally concerned about the well-being of his staffs. “I try to be proactive and democratic. I’m not a dictator. I want you to apply your talent and grow your career. I want to hear your feedback. I want to empower the people working for me. I want them to know that they have a vested interest in making things work.” he says.
Mentoring is one of Mendeszoon’s greatest passions. He is a faculty mentor at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center; serves on the center’s promotions committee and the Medical Student Task Force committee; and is a member of the Legacy Society of Downstate Medical Center, an organization that promotes giving back to the community while recruiting young people for careers in health care.
Beyond medicine, Mendeszoon enjoys Broadway shows, movies and reading. An avid sports fan, his favorite teams are all of the New York major leaguers: the Jets (football), Knicks (basketball) and the Yankees (baseball). As a teenager, he ran track and played both basketball and football. Few are aware of his love of writing. While he majored in biology as an undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, he minored in English. “If I wasn’t a physician, I’d be a writer,” he says, adding that he still hopes to pen a book one day.
Mendeszoon completed his medical studies at the State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn and received an MBA in health-care administration from Baruch College/Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Graduate Program in Health Care Administration. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and still lives there with his wife, Elsa.