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Heart to Heart

 3 min read

Students Find Love in Jefferson’s Perfusion Program

For Celia Pascoe and Grant Gagnon, the cardiovascular perfusion program at Jefferson was truly an affair of the heart. The couple met and fell in love while training to run the machine used during cardiovascular surgery.

The relationship was slow to start. First friendship. Then study-buddies. Then a pandemic quarantine. Throughout it all, the couple remained focus on their school work—and each other.

Pascoe, 26, majored in medical laboratory science at the University of Delaware. She knew she wanted to go on to earn a master’s degree, but wasn’t sure in what field of study. “Then I found out about perfusion, and it combined my love of science with being hands-on and working with machines,” she says.

For Gagnon, also 26, the path to a career as a perfusionist included a walk in his father’s footsteps.

“My father is a perfusionist, so I’ve known about the field for a long time. I’ve always thought it was really interesting, and the type of opportunities that were available to me always seemed very good,” he says.

Perfusionists are vital members of the cardiovascular surgical team. They are responsible for running the cardiopulmonary bypass machine, also known as the heart-lung machine, which was invented at Jefferson by alumnus John H. Gibbon, Jr., MD ’27. The device diverts blood away from the heart and lungs, adds oxygen to the blood, then returns the blood to the body—all without the blood having to go through the heart.

I found out about perfusion, and it combined my love of science with being hands-on and working with machines.        

Celia Pascoe

When Pascoe first arrived at Jefferson from Middletown, Delaware, she met Gagnon, from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, at a small get-together with the other six students and the professors.  

“We all went out for a little happy hour and that’s where we really got to start to know each other,” Pascoe says.

While Gagnon says it was love at first sight for him, “Celia was a little hard to get… She was really school-oriented, so it was hard to get her away from the books.”

Gagnon figured if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. “I offered to study with her a lot more. We spent a lot of time in the library—that was the easiest way to at least spend some time with her.”

Although they started out just friends, little by little, Pascoe realized that Gagnon was special.

It started with a run on the Ben Franklin Bridge and a conversation about family. The run was followed by dinner at a Center City restaurant and walk through Washington Square Park.

“We ended up sitting on one of the benches and I asked her if she wanted to be my girlfriend. She said ‘yes,’” Gagnon reports.

For Pascoe, the real aha moment—the moment she realized he was “the one”—came later, while the couple rode out the pandemic together at her mother’s home in Delaware.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the clinical portion of their training came to a screeching halt.

“Our classes went online and clinicals completely stopped,” Pascoe says, explaining that they were supposed to be in the operating room getting hands-on experience. Instead, they hit the books and read up on everything they needed to know.

With the shutdown of onsite instruction, “Mom, Grant, and I all quarantined together. That’s actually when I realized that he was going to be ‘the one,’” she says.

Gagnon says quarantining was easy. “There was a lot of studying, and being together made it that much easier.” The two passed the comprehensive exam and boards with flying colors.

Today, Gagnon is working at Jefferson Health, mostly at Abington. Pascoe is employed at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. And both are headed back to Jefferson for their post-professional master’s in perfusion.

“It was Celia’s idea for us to go back,” says Gagnon. “And it is definitely the right thing for us to do.” They will finish the program in spring of 2023.

But first, there will be a wedding—on June 10, 2022.

Gagnon popped the question while on vacation in the Bahamas. Of course, she said “yes.”