Surgeon heals with both scalpel and guitar


Dr. Rob Adamson has performed hundreds of lifesaving heart operations during his 30-plus-year medical career, including heart transplant surgeries at Sharp Memorial Hospital, one of two heart transplant centers in San Diego County.

Music is one thing that helps him deal with the stress of his demanding job as a cardiothoracic surgeon and director of the cardiac transplant program at Sharp. Adamson, a Del Mar resident, has played guitar since he was a small child, and he relaxes by writing and recording songs, which he described as having a mix of medical and Christian themes.

Adamson has recorded more than 100 songs in his home studio, and he plays all the instruments on his recordings, including guitar, drums, bass and keyboards. He also sings and is often joined by one of his three grown children in the recording studio, all of whom are musically inclined.

Generally, he has not released his music publicly, although he does occasionally post a music video on his Facebook page.

Adamson said music helps him cope with difficult times, such as when a patient succumbs to his or her heart ailment.

“In medicine, you do your best but at times, the illness is beyond what medicine can do to help,” he said. “There’s a certain solace and comfort in music. It has allowed me an avenue to express pain and frustration and sorrow. It’s healing in and of itself.”

Among the tunes he has penned and recorded are “Heart Failure Blues,” “Heart of the Healer,” and “You Put a New Heart in My Song,” which he wrote to accompany a documentary film about one of his patients who underwent a successful heart transplant operation.

Adamson said he initially intended to study psychology when he went to college, but gravitated toward heart surgery because he felt the outcomes were more definitive. “You can repair or fix something and get an immediate benefit” for the patient, he said.

During the time he has overseen Sharp’s heart transplant program, some 400 of the operations have been performed, and he has done about 90 percent of them. He has also done hundreds of other types of heart operations.

He has been gratified by the progress made by medical science during his career.

“Everything is just dramatically improved,” as doctors and scientists learn more, he said. “They keep coming up with new and better ways to do things.”

As an example, he said, less invasive procedures with smaller incisions, and entry through the groin instead of open heart surgery, have become available. Also, the devices used to help heart patients have become much smaller and quieter.

When Adamson isn’t in the operating room or his music studio, he enjoys the Southern California lifestyle, including surfing, golf and tennis.

At 64, Adamson said he operates every day, and has no immediate plans to put down his scalpel.

“I hope to operate for another 10 years,” he said, and then transition to spending more time on his music and other pursuits.