Getting to know … Dr. Marshall Marchbanks |

Getting to know … Dr. Marshall Marchbanks

Nathan Rodriguez
Kristin AndersonSingletree resident Marshall Marchbanks enjoys playing the piano in his spare time and at church.

If someone saves another person’s life, they’re usually considered a hero. But when someone saves hundreds or thousands of lives, words can only go so far.

This July, Edwards resident Dr. Marshall Marchbanks was given a rare honor when an operating room at Sonoma County Hospital (in Santa Rosa, Calif.) was named after him. But unlike almost all other naming ceremonies at hospitals, Marchbanks hadn’t made a large monetary donation. Rather, his colleagues and patients decided something needed to be done to recognize his 25 years of service at the hospital.

At the ceremony, he brought out a note he wrote in 1980 about the three things that matter to him in medicine: humility, strength and compassionate care. It’s little wonder then that former patients traveled from around the world to attend the dedication ceremony, some coming as far as Japan.

We got a chance to sit down with Dr. Marchbanks, who offered a remarkable rendition of “America the Beautiful” on the piano, and talked about life in the operating room and beyond.

Well, it was a real honor. I’ve been the chief (heart surgeon) there for 20 years, and have worked there for 25 years. We’ve done over 7,000 open heart procedures, and I’ve done over 5,000, but I guess I just sort of became a fixture because I was working 80 or 90 hours and had my feet planted in the operating room for so long. But according to the hospital, my colleagues and the nurses and the patients were the ones who insisted on naming the room after me. Usually those are reserved for people who make large donations, but this one was named in honor without any donation, so that’s why it was the biggest honor of my life.

Well, it was a shock at first because I received a call from the chief cardiologist there, who has actually been there four years longer than I have. He was head of the foundation, and told me they had decided to name the operating room after me, on a special dedicatory day in Santa Rosa. Well, I thought it was a joke, because he had been known to joke with me before. We had a very good and professional relationship, and deeply admired and respected one another, but I really thought it was a joke. Then later that day, I got an email from someone else at the hospital saying the same things, and I thought, ‘Oh, well this is really serious.’ So I was just sort of in a cloud, walking around, trying to figure out if this can actually be true.

The dedication that day was just so nice. They had a private tour of the operating room for people I’d invited. There was a special dinner that night at a nice restaurant with about 100 people there, including some of my closest friends and colleagues. I think they’d suspected that I wouldn’t get to be there (after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in January), but almost everyone knew that I was going through treatment, so I was joking with my wife that I bet they didn’t think I’d make it.

But there’s a nice plaque at the entrance of the operating room that reads “Marshall Marchbanks Operating Suite,” and they have a picture, and next to it are a few kind words about me.

There was no precedent for that because the heart institute was named after the largest donor, and the pulmonary institute before was named for a lady who had died from heart disease after fighting it for a long time, but she donated quite a bit for that building. Almost all the things that have names on them are from contributions. I’d like to say it was a dream come true, but I never really even dreamed of something like this.

Well, I’m still not completely recovered from my battle with cancer, but it’s getting better. I’m trying to get a good medical recovery and hopefully stay cancer-free. I want to continue to go farther with the piano (he has recorded four CD’s in the last five years), and I really was looking forward to joining the community from a medical and social standpoint.

When you’re battling back from cancer, every day is a good day. I haven’t gotten to do what I want to do yet, but hopefully that will come in the next couple months.

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