Gentle, compassionate, and soft-spoken — the late Mark Hausknecht, MD, was all of those things. The interventional cardiologist is remembered as a physician with maximal ability and a minimalist lifestyle.
As a young physician, fellow Houston cardiologist Alpesh Shah, MD, assisted Dr. Hausknecht and remembers asking him to repeat instructions because no one could hear him. Dr. Hausknecht would just smile, comply, and go about his business.
That quiet manner helped make Dr. Hausknecht, who died on July 20, 2018, at age 65, more than just an exemplary physician. It made him a role model as well.
“I just can’t even remember him having any high-decibel statement or sentence,” Dr. Shah said. “I felt like I learned a lot just in watching him interact with patients, and how he would talk to them, how he would explain to them what is getting done and what’s going on. It put everybody so much at calm and ease working with him.”
That gentle demeanor made the nature of his tragic death all the more shocking to Dr. Shah and the rest of Dr. Hausknecht’s colleagues at Houston Methodist Hospital. According to news reports, Houston police said Dr. Hausknecht was riding his bike to work that day when Joseph James Pappas, also on a bike, rode past Dr. Hausknecht and fatally shot him. Mr. Pappas killed himself two weeks later during a confrontation with police. Authorities said Mr. Pappas may have held a grudge because his mother died 20 years earlier during surgery performed by Dr. Hausknecht.
The news stunned Dr. Hausknecht’s colleagues at Methodist, and sent the hospital into a degree of disbelief.
“Forget making enemies — he was so quiet,” Dr. Shah said. “I think not many people even knew of him, so to speak, in spite of [what] a great doctor he was.”
Dr. Hausknecht received his medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine in 1980 and completed his residency and fellowship at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital. Perhaps a testament to his medical expertise, much of the coverage following his death focused on his treatment of a famous patient: former President George H.W. Bush. According to news reports, Dr. Hausknecht treated President Bush in 2000 for an irregular heartbeat.
But Neal Kleiman, MD, director of Methodist’s DeBakey Heart and Vascular Center, told CNN he and his colleagues thought of Dr. Hausknecht first and foremost as a great physician, not “as a doctor to the stars.”
State Rep. Tom Oliverson, MD (R-Cypress), an anesthesiologist, trained under Dr. Hausknecht for just one month 18 years ago as a resident, but he remembers him much the same way Dr. Shah does.
Dr. Oliverson told Texas Medicine that rotation under Dr. Hausknecht was one of his best as an intern, recalling him as a skilled clinician, a good teacher, and a compassionate physician whose patients took a liking to him. Years later, when Dr. Oliverson’s mother-in-law needed a cardiologist, he referred her to Dr. Hausknecht, who was still overseeing her care at the time of his death.
“I know that we all know docs whose bedside manner isn’t the greatest. But I found him to be somebody that was really good with patients,” Dr. Oliverson said. “He just really had that human touch to him, and people felt genuinely like they were going to get better because he was taking care of them.”
Dr. Hausknecht’s routine of biking to the hospital, Dr. Shah said, was a reflection of the kind of person he was: “a very minimalistic person in spite of all these abilities and acumen. He led a very simple life.” In fact, his biking was a source of jokes between Dr. Hausknecht and his colleagues; he was biking, Dr. Shah said, “when [it] was not the cool thing to do.”
He added Dr. Hausknecht has left “a massive void” Methodist never will fill.
“He was a very unique doctor. His … pleasant nature, professional methods of doing things, [were] just second to none and will be hard to replace. We just all miss him.”
Dr. Hausknecht was a member of the Texas Medical Association for 31 years. He was also a member of the TMA Alliance, as well as a contributor to TEXPAC, TMA’s political arm.