The admiration that David Joyce, MD, associate professor of surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), has toward his father, Lyle Joyce, MD, PhD, MCW professor of surgery, extends beyond their work together on the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin heart and vascular team as a superstar cardiothoracic surgeon duo.
In addition to being a heart transplant thought leader, according to Dr. David Joyce, his father is also a compassionate person who truly cares about his patients, colleagues and family.
“You just could not have a better role model in terms of how to treat people, how to put your priorities right in life,” says Dr. David Joyce. “He is always someone who put his family first.”
By his own account, Dr. Lyle Joyce traces his values to his childhood in Nebraska.
“I was one of those fortunate kids that grew up on the farm,” recalls Dr. Lyle Joyce. “The family was the working unit together, so I spent every day of my first 18 years of my life basically working side by side with Dad.”
After leaving the family farm to pursue his education, Dr. Lyle Joyce embarked on a medical career that has solidified his place as a pioneering figure in the field of cardiac surgery. Among many highlights, he was part of the surgical team responsible for implanting the first total artificial heart in a human in 1982.
“When someone has seen as much and done as much across the entire spectrum of cardiac surgery as Lyle Joyce has, that’s a resource that you do not take lightly,” reflects Dr. David Joyce.
Dr. David Joyce followed in his father’s footsteps, earning his medical degree at Harvard Medical School and completing residencies at Johns Hopkins and Stanford University Hospital respectively. In 2014, he teamed up with his father for the first time as a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic. Both Dr. David Joyce and Dr. Lyle Joyce joined MCW as faculty members in June 2017 and remain one of the few – if not only – father-son duos in cardiothoracic surgery in the country.
“I think maybe one of the reasons why you don’t see a lot of father-son teams is that it’s an intense specialty and sometimes it can bring out the worst in people,” says Dr. David Joyce.
Their strong bond and familiarity with each other make their relationship an asset in the operating room rather than a hinderance.
“I think we balance each other and we have a good time. We respect each other, enjoy operating together, enjoy discussing cases together,” says Dr. Lyle Joyce. “Particularly when we’re operating together, we think so much alike and we know each other so well, it’s almost like the right and the left hand.”
Having two highly experienced surgeons on the same team has its advantages when it comes to working on complex cases.
“Between the two of us now, I don’t know if there are many moves out there in cardiac surgery that at least one of us isn’t familiar with,” says Dr. David Joyce. “So that when you find a crazy situation that no one has ever thought of a solution for, usually when we put our heads together we can figure it out.”
One of those complex cases involved the care of baker and community advocate, Darrin Reesby. The father-son duo, working together with other cardiovascular medicine colleagues at MCW, were able to successfully transition Reesby from a left ventricular assist device that was helping his weakened heart to a whole new donor heart, which has enabled Darrin to continue his work in the community.
The Drs. Joyces’ time together doesn’t end in the operating room. Upon moving from Minnesota to the Milwaukee area, they bought a lot with two separate homes that provide one residence for Dr. David Joyce and his family and another for his parents.
“This is the best thing we can have aside from having a farm and working together,” says Dr. Lyle Joyce. “We live close by and carpool morning and night. I get a chance to see the grandkids and have dinner with them every night.”
Having his father so close inspires Dr. David Joyce to hold himself to a high standard in both medicine and in life.
“Just to have someone with that level of character and such incredible patience and being able to treat people so well, I think that’s probably the best example I could ever have in a father,” he says.