Photo by Jay Paul
VCU Health System CEO John Duval (far right) with, from left, Dr. John Ward, Dr. Joel Schmidt and Dr. Wilhelm Zuelzer of the neurosurgery, pediatrics and orthopedic surgery departments, respectively.
Rugby, football, trekking, cycling, scuba diving … hospital administration.
If the last entry sounds a little off-key, just sit down with John Duval a few moments, and you’ll understand how they all fit together.
“I love being part of a great team,” explains Duval, vice president of clinical services and CEO of VCU Hospitals and the VCU Health System.
Team sports have been a big part of Duval’s life since his youth. And he says that having a great team is just as important in a major health system as it is in sports — more so, because lives are at stake.
“He is a champion of patients and their outcomes,” says Dr. Vigneshwar Kasirajan, director of Heart Transplantation, Heart-Lung Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support at the VCU Medical Center.
In 2006, Duval got behind an effort to use an artificial heart for patients with advanced heart failure, many of whom were awaiting a heart transplant, Kasirajan says. “This alone has saved the lives of numerous patients in this region,” he says.
Dr. David Lanning, surgeon-in-chief at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, remembers another occasion, when he approached Duval about possibly separating conjoined twin girls from the Dominican Republic so they would have a chance of leading individually fulfilling lives. “He realized there was a fair amount of risk involved. You never know for sure what might happen,” Lanning says.
But after weighing the risks to the twins, the financial costs to the hospital and the uncertainties of a successful outcome, Lanning says Duval came to an irrevocable conclusion that outweighed other considerations. “He said, ‘This is what’s best for these girls. Let’s do it,’ ” Lanning recalls.
Duval, who earned an undergraduate degree in the biological sciences and later an MBA, says close teamwork with physicians and others led him to his decision. That same teamwork, involving an extraordinarily methodical series of steps and follow-ups, was also crucial in what eventually became a successful separation of the conjoined twins, he adds. “It was a convergence of needs and capability.”
Team sports outside the medical center offer Duval a measure of relaxation and relief that can often be hard to come by in a stressful job. But he also knows how to kick up his heels —literally.
In 2013, Duval took home the grand prize for performing the hustle with a professional partner at the third annual “Dancing with the Richmond Stars.” The event raised $95,000 for the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.