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A stalwart surgeon with heart to spare
Dr. Omar Lattouf with patients

Throughout his decades-long career at Emory, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Omar Lattouf has formed countless close connections with heart patients and their families.

During the first year of the pandemic, when many were fleeing big, crowded cities, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Omar Lattouf and his wife, Lina, were just beginning to adjust to their new life in New York City. They had moved there in the beginning of 2020 to be close to their children, whose own families were growing. They looked forward to welcoming their first grandchildren — little knowing that in a few short weeks, the entire world would change.

Lattouf remembers how surreal it was during that tumultuous and frightening time when the emergency rooms were at capacity, and every ICU patient had this alarming novel coronavirus.

“I would be walking from my apartment to the hospital, any time, day or night, and you wouldn’t see a single car. Only ambulances with their sirens,” he remembers. “Occasionally, in the middle of Park Avenue, you would see two young kids riding bikes in the street with no cars.”

Starting November 1, Lattouf will return to familiar territory, back to Emory, where he spent more than three decades building an impressive career as an expert in his field and a mentor to countless medical students, residents and fellows. In this new role, he’ll be a vital part of the burgeoning heart program at Tanner Health System in Carrollton, one of Emory’s more recent partners, and will be responsible for the launch of the cardiothoracic online learning program for Emory’s cardiothoracic surgery residents.

surgical procedure

Lattouf in the operating room at Grady hospital, where he was chief resident, in 1984.

Originally from Amman, Jordan, Lattouf graduated from Emory University School of Medicine in 1980 and went on to oversee many firsts here. For instance, in 1986, he helped implant the state's first Abiomed biventricular assist system to support the failing heart of a patient suffering from post-cardiotomy shock. In 1988, he was part of the Emory Heart and Vascular team that performed Georgia's first domino heart transplant. Then, in 2001, he performed the world's first endoscopic left ventricular resynchronization. In 2019, he received Emory School of Medicine’s prestigious Award of Honor.

Growing up in Jordan, Lattouf first felt a calling to heal people’s hearts in the wake of a devastating loss. His father died of a heart attack when Omar was just 14 years old. Spending countless hours by his father’s bedside at that early age, he said, “left an impression on me.”

Of course, it can be a tough road to get there — Lattouf spent 19 years going through college, medical school, and residency to start realizing those aspirations. But he says he wouldn’t change a single thing.

"It’s a rewarding career. Excitement, satisfaction, sometimes painful experiences, but the victories have far outnumbered the painful experiences,” he said. “When you take a patient who’s immensely ill, and you bring him/her back to his/her loved ones, and the dad, the mom and family members give you that hug after the operation, there’s nothing greater than that.”

Lattouf was among the founding members at the inaugural conference of the Academy of Life Sciences on Sept 17, 2022, in Washington, D.C. The cohort explored the potential impact of online learning on medical education.

One patient that sticks with him is a school bus driver who had begun to experience alarming chest pain while toting students to and from class. As the man sat in front of Lattouf, describing his symptoms and anxiety, Lattouf remembers looking over at the man’s wife, who was sitting there, silently squeezing her husband’s hand in support. They reminded him of one of his favorite movie couples – Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw from the 1970 tearjerker Love Story.

Thankfully, the bus driver’s story ended on a decidedly happier note than the film — as Lattouf was able to operate successfully, saving the patient’s life and giving that sweet couple a chance to keep building a future together. Many years since, Lattouf and the bus driver have kept in touch — something that frequently happens with the patients who cross his path.

Of course, Lattouf has an epic romance to draw strength from in his own life — his marriage of 38 years. He first met Lina during his surgical residency. One of Lattouf’s professors invited him to a party that Lina was attending with some friends. The two chatted, sparks flew, and bonds instantly formed, but there was just one problem: She lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, while he was in Atlanta. To solve that minor hiccup, Lattouf proposed to her five months into their courtship. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Family portrait of Dr. Lattouf, his wife Lina, and their kids (plus one furry friend).

These days, when not working, Omar and Lina — who is a pharmacist — still love spending time with their three adult kids, Zenna, Amal and Rashid, and their grandkids, Deanna, Georgia and James. They also love to travel. Some of Lattouf’s favorite visits have included the Great Wall of China and the Great Pyramids of Egypt.

Looking ahead to this new role and his return to Emory, Lattouf said that the time away in New York helped to cement how much he had gotten from the institution that molded him. “When you’re inside the forest, you see the trees but can’t see the full picture. Moving away really allowed me to value Emory fully. At this stage, I want to pay back all that I was given.”

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