In this conversation, we discuss one of Ryan and Stefanie’s fellow alumni Nick Rappa. Nick graduated from SUNY in 2009 among a class of five and left a huge impact on them, his family, and community. Nick’s passing in October of 2018 led the  members of his graduation class to set up a memorial endowment in his name. Enjoy the conversation.


Speaker 1: Bringing you conversations with leaders within the operating room and healthcare community. This is Scrubbing In.

Todd: Hello and welcome to this episode of Scrubbing In, a podcast powered by Specialty Care. I’m Todd Schlosser and today my guests are Stephanie Cavanaugh and Ryan Price, perfusionists at Specialty Care. In this conversation, we discuss one of their fellow alumni, Nick Rappa. Nick graduated from SUNY Upstate Medical College in 2009, among a class of five and he left a huge impact on them, his family and his community. Nick’s passing in October of 2018, led the members of his graduating class to set up a memorial endowment in his name. Enjoy this conversation.

Todd: Thank you for joining us here on Scrubbing In. I’m Todd Schlosser and joining me today are two guests. We have Ryan and Stephanie joining us. They just joined with the perfusion service line here at Specialty Care and they are both upstanding graduates of SUNY of Upstate Medical College, right?

Stephanie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ryan:  Yes.

Todd: Nailed it. So, you guys are here today to talk about a certain scholarship that you guys set up, so I’d like to give you the opportunity to talk about that.

Ryan: Yeah, sure, that’d be great. In 2009, Stephanie and myself, there was five of us total, we graduated from Perfusion School and we were a pretty tight-knit group.

Todd:  I’d imagine any class of five would be close.

Ryan: We go through that and we’ve stayed in touch. We were like best friends all around and in October of last year, one of our classmates, Nick Rappa, was killed by a drunk driver and it was pretty tough for all of us and so we struggled on what to do and how to keep his name around and what we came up with was creating an endowment so it would keep his name and our school forever and we used that to give back to our perfusion community. It’s an endowment that’s a scholarship that will give money to an incoming senior student to either present research or travel or whatever they may need.

Todd:  So, you guys graduated in 2009. At that point, I imagine you guys moved all across the country, sort of separating and going to wherever you best were located.

Ryan: Yeah, none of us were in the same spot. Nick, at the time, when he graduated, he went to San Antonio and then he went to Oklahoma University, at the Children’s Hospital there and he was there for a while. He was a senior perfusionist there, doing some great things and he was really a remarkable guy. He was the youngest one in our class. He was definitely the smartest.

Stephanie:  Yeah, that’s for sure.

Ryan: He was just good at everything.

Todd:  Don’t you sort of hate those people?

Stephanie: Yes.

Ryan: I mean, everything.

Todd: It’s good to be around them.

Ryan: Right, “You need something welded? Oh, just bring it to my garage, I’ll weld it,” you know?

Todd:  So, not only could he weld, he also had the equipment, too?

Ryan:  Oh, yeah. He was unbelievable. He was the kind of guy that, we played racquetball in college and I was playing for a long time and he has never played before, so like the first three times we played, I would crush him and then after that, I never beat him again for the rest. He would just get that good at something, that quick, all the time.

Todd: So, he was in Oklahoma?

Ryan:  Oklahoma Children’s.

Todd:  Oklahoma Children’s Hospital. And I’m assuming worked there until the accident last October, right?

Ryan:  Yes.

Todd: This sort of thing, unfortunately, happens a lot, where someone’s life is cut short and it’s admirable that you guys started to come together and honor him in some way. My question would be, what led you to do a perfusion scholarship at SUNY?

Ryan: I mean, we really tried to figure out the best way to remember Nick and we tried to bring in something of who he was. He was really young when he started. He got in and it’s a really tough program to get into and he got in because he was so smart and so good at it and we know that being that young, he didn’t have any money and none of us did, really, and-

Todd: That’s why you were getting perfusionist degrees.

Ryan: Right. We tried to come up with something that would represent where he was, too, and-

Stephanie:  Something he was really passionate about. He was very-

Ryan:  He was. There’s no doubt that he was going to be a leader in this profession. So, that’s kind of where … We kicked around a lot of ideas and this just seemed to be the best thing. I’m actually, and I know Stephie is, too, pretty proud of our school.

Stephanie:  Yes.

Ryan:  I think it’s a great program. I’m biased. I think it’s probably the best program around, obviously. But, Ed Darling and Bruce Searles are the instructors up there and they’re like family to us and they took care of us and it really hit home when it happened and I think it just all came together that we really just not only wanted to remember him, but give back to the program that really set us up for where we are now.

Todd:  Sure. I imagine the four of you remaining kind of got together on this.

Ryan:  Yeah.

Todd: And I’d imagine you guys brainstormed the idea out together and reached out to the school at the time. I guess instructors or the people at the college of perfusion at Upstate Medical, right? So, how did they react when you … I can’t imagine they were upset, but-

Ryan:  No, I mean, they were awesome. They actually have … It’s called the Upstate Foundation, so they have a foundation already there and they were amazing. They helped us and walked us through it.

Stephanie:  Yeah, and they seemed quick to jump on it, too.

Ryan: Yeah, it was great.

Stephanie:  Very supportive.

Ryan:  Yeah, it’s something we’re proud of, but more importantly, it gives back to our community, which really has done great things for us and we get to keep Nick’s name in our profession forever, which is kind of what we wanted to do.

Todd:  That’s awesome and it sounds like he was on his way to establishing that himself and then couldn’t do that anymore, so you guys are carrying that torch for him.

Ryan: There is no doubt that he would have done that, for sure.

Todd:  Going about setting up, I guess not the foundation, but the endowment, was that difficult? I’d imagine that for a lot of people, they might want to do this, but that step may seem intimidating. Was it difficult to go about that?

Ryan: The school, itself, made the foundation part very easy. It was difficult in the fact that we wanted to do the right thing. It was not difficult in the fact that we were very driven by really just wanting to keep Nick’s name around and losing him was tough and we just didn’t want to forget about it and we wanted to … And I think that made it a little bit easier, just being so driven to create it and get over the hurdle and get it done and then we can worry about starting to raise money and creating a lasting fund.

Todd:  The ideal person for this scholarship would be someone who’s moving from their junior to senior year, is that correct?

Ryan:  Yes.

Todd:  So, how would you … If I was going to Upstate Medical College, how would I go about applying for this endowment or this scholarship?

Ryan:  Well, we’re currently still in the process of how we’re going to pick a senior student every year. In the interim, we were going to pick the youngest soon, being that Nick was the youngest student, but we’re trying to focus on some research and we’re putting together a process where, to get the money, it will drive the incoming students to just be better at what their goal is to, to be a better perfusionist and we’re still working on that process right now. This is the first year. Obviously, it’s still kind of still new and sensitive.

Todd: Well, this just happened last October. You guys have moved quick to get to this point, I think.

Ryan: Yeah.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s still developing, but the foundation is up and running and the endowment is already created, so it will last forever. That was our first goal, to get enough money to make sure that we can create the endowment so it will last forever and our second goal will be to get to a certain amount of money so the scholarship will be high enough to be of value and drive someone to be better.

Todd: So, obviously you’re doing this in his name and I guess my question was, if this happened in my family, I would be incredibly touched by people from his school setting this up for him. So, do you have contact with his family? What was their reaction to it?

Ryan: Yeah, he has a brother, who, they were really close. Since then, his name’s Joe … I have become close with him and they’re great. You know, it’s tough for them, obviously, but I think they’re excited just like we are to keep his name around and they know, obviously, we knew that he was something very special and unique and we’re hoping that this can educate everybody on that forever.

Todd: Did he have any children or anything like that, that were-

Ryan:  Yeah, Nick has a 3-year-old daughter.

Todd: Oh, man.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s tough.

Todd: That is rough. I mean, potentially, she could grow up and go to school and use her dad’s scholarship.

Ryan: Right.

Todd: That’s right, but that’s a lot of stuff to get over. I didn’t realize she was that young.

Ryan:  Three years old. It’s sad.

Todd:  That’s a lot for a 3-year-old. Yeah, absolutely.

Ryan: You know, the hard part of that … I mean, I have a 2-year-old myself, but the hardest part of thinking of that is like, at 3 years old, she’s just … I mean, as bad as it is to say, I mean, she’s never really going to know him.

Todd:  Yeah. Her memory of her dad will be really other people’s memories of him.

Ryan: Right.

Todd:  Which is … It speaks highly of that memory, because you guys were so motivated to create this. So, he was obviously a caliber of person that is not common, so she will grow up with those stories, which is not much of a consolation prize, but it’s something-

Stephanie:  That’s true.

Todd:    … to hold onto.

Ryan:  Yeah, he was really something special. Even at his funeral, he built and fixed motorcycles and Mustangs and-

Todd:  Well, he welded.

Ryan:  Yeah and then he did heart surgery on little kids. And so, the dynamic part of the group there … I mean, there were a motorcycle gang in chaps and a renowned scholar surgeon, both talking at his funeral. I mean, it just showed what kind of person he actually really was.

Todd: Yeah, sort of a unifier of people.

Ryan: Yeah. It was amazing.

Stephanie:   It’s funny.

Todd: I mean, as funny as it could be in that setting.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Ryan:  Right.

Todd: It was an interesting conglomerate of people.

Ryan:  I think it was really good. It really showed who he was. He loved everyone. Even though he was good at everything, he was the most humble guy. I mean, half the stuff that he was doing, we didn’t even know. I talked to him once a week all the time and some of the stuff that he was doing that was amazing for people, who didn’t even know.

Stephanie: I didn’t know.

Ryan: At his funeral, the surgeon gave a talk about how he has three boys and Nick was also into weightlifting and being pretty healthy and he said he came home and the guys were working out in the garage on a weight bench and they were like, “Well, where did you get this?” “Nick brought it over for us.” You know, he was just a humble guy and good at everything.

Stephanie:  Big heart.

Ryan:  It was tough to lose him.

Todd: Well, it sounds like you guys have created something that will give his legacy a lasting memory, which is very touching. I know when I lost my brother in a car accident, very similar to this-

Ryan:  I’m sorry.

Todd:  … my family went through something sort of similar and something was set up. We were in high school at the time. They set up an award in his name, so that still sort of lives on. So, when I heard the story yesterday, I was like, “I really want to talk to these people because they went through similar things and I understand what that’s like,” so from someone who’s been from the family side, thank you guys so much for setting up something like this, because it’s hard for … at least for us, as a family. And I was much older than the daughter was, but it’s something to be proud of, to see that that lives on. That’s really touching. So, thank you guys so much.

Ryan: Yeah.

Stephanie:  Yeah.

Todd:   And I should say that there are two other people who came together to do this. I know we sort of mentioned that, but it’s you two and-

Ryan:    Zack Beckman and Jim Loftus are our other classmates.

Todd:  Both perfusionists.

Ryan: Both perfusionists.

Todd: And both graduated from SUNY, correct?

Ryan:  Yeah. Everybody was a big part in it and it was kind of nice to bring our group together again. We all-

Todd:   It sounds like you guys have stayed really close, which is admirable. It’s been 10 years since you guys graduated and to be still so close, it speaks a lot to how you were when you were actually going through it together and being in perfusion school.

Ryan:  And perfusion school is not easy.

Stephanie:  No.

Ryan: Having a good group of friends to go with and lean on each other. I think we all had different strengths and weaknesses and I think we put those together-

Stephanie: Yeah.

Ryan:    … just to make us all better.

Stephanie:  We spent a lot of time together.

Ryan: We spent a lot of time together.

Todd: Formal study sessions?

Stephanie: Yeah.

Ryan:  Yeah.

Todd: Well, Ryan and Stephanie, thank you so much for coming in and sharing your story today and thank you so much for setting up the endowment at the Upstate Medical College or SUNY and thank you so much for joining us here on Scrubbing In. We appreciate it.

Ryan:  Thank you for having us.

Stephanie: Yes, thank you.

Ryan: And if anyone ever wants to donate or read about Nick, upstatefoundation.org and then the Nicholas B. Rappa Endowment is a link that you can click on in there.

Todd: Thanks for listening to Scrubbing In. Please take a second to give us a rating on your podcast app and subscribe so you won’t miss out on what we have coming up. See you next time.