Heart specialist

Professor Saoudi: Leading heart specialist serenades his patients on the operating table

Since she is fully conscious, she is remarkably calm – serene, even.

In fact, she is so relaxed that she enjoys singing a song with her surgeon, the eminent cardiologist, Professor Nadir Saoudi.

As Professor Saoudi sings an interpretation of Don José from the opera Carmen, his patient joins him.

As for the bedside manners, it’s quite extraordinary.

Yet her voice clearly has a sedative effect on her patient.

No wonder, since his singing qualities regularly give him an audience with the rich, famous and even royalty – he is politely speechless when I ask who.

“Music has magical powers and I realized very early in my career that if I sing for these patients under local anesthesia, they focus on my singing rather than on the fact that they are having surgery,” explains Prof. Saoudi, 62 years old. .

He lives in Cap d’ail with his wife Corinne, 57, a doctor. They have four children aged 19 to 35.

“Of course the patients are surprised when I suggest I sing, but they really like it.

I will sing whatever they ask for from my repertoire, including pop music from the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s as well as songs from famous musicals such as Les Misérables.

It’s wonderful when some of them sing with me.

He is warm and self-deprecating.

Professor Saoudi is known around the world for his pioneering work in the field of arrhythmia – a disturbance in the heart’s usual electrical rhythm that can occur at any age and cause symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath and nausea.

He was also the first surgeon to perform a pioneering procedure called cardiac catheter ablation of atrial flutter – the same operation cured Tony Blair’s heart murmur.

He is a former president of the French Arrhythmia Group of the French Society of Cardiology, a member of numerous cardiology associations and has published more than 180 research articles, 275 abstracts and two books.

In search of an antidote to the demands of his career in cardiology, he decided 20 years ago to reconnect with the love of singing that he had discovered as a child in a Parisian suburb.

“Although I have an Arabic name, I was brought up in the Catholic religion and first sang in church,” says Professor Saoudi, who was brought up by his maternal grandparents after his Algerian father was killed in a car accident a few months before his birth.

“I then sang classical music in three choirs, first as a soprano and then as a tenor when my voice broke in my early teens.

“I remember singing with a choir of 600 people at a concert in Germany when I was 14 years old.”

During his medical studies at the University of Paris Val de Marne, he traded singing for sport, especially rowing.

“Then, when I was 42 years old and I was professor of cardiology at the University of Rouen, investing all my energies in pioneering developments in arrhythmia, I realized that I needed a hobby.

“I’m passionate about cardiology, but it’s complex and being an arrhythmia expert is a bit like playing chess – it takes great concentration for long periods of time, which is very tiring.

“So I went back to music, queuing in the street in Rouen to audition for musical comedy groups.

I found a place and started singing songs from Les Misérables as a group as well as songs from various other musicals.

At the same time, I signed up for opera lessons.

“The pinnacle was in front of a sold-out audience of 1,600 people one evening in Rouen with my son Hugo, who was then 10 years old, by my side on stage. “

After 21 years in Rouen and brief stays in Montpellier and Miami, Prof. Saoudi and his family moved to Monaco when he was invited to create a new hospital service there.

Hesitant to leave Rouen, his wife persuaded him that a life on the shores of the Mediterranean would be beautiful and too tempting to refuse it.

“But I still needed to sing,” he continues.

“Once it’s in your blood, it’s there forever. Fortunately, shortly after we arrived here, I operated on a lady to insert a defibrillator – I never sing in complicated or major operations – and found out that she was a pianist.

We did a few concerts together locally and I sang songs from famous operas such as Carmen.

“Most of the time, we performed at cardiology meetings and conferences, a sort of medical cabaret, combining science and emotion.

My peers always find it funny when they find out that I can sing, it always goes well with a medical audience.

“After a while, I realized that as you get older, if you don’t practice opera every day, it’s almost impossible to maintain your voice.

So I had to go back to musicals. In 2003, Professor Saoudi met a well-known expatriate English pianist and conductor, Stuart Barham, affectionately known as the “music man of the Riviera”.

He has performed and directed in theaters around the world.

The two became friends and have performed since then, frequently giving charity concerts and performing to private audiences.

Which brings me perfectly back to these royal admirers… “I really can’t say who they are,” laughs Professor Saoudi.

“But, yes, I have sung in glittering palaces and beautiful millionaire mansions, although never before on a yacht, which is surprising for the South of France.

“Many of my patients hire me to sing at their parties. They love to say to their guests, “It’s my doctor singing!”

“I even did an impromptu performance at the exclusive Cliveden House Hotel in Berkshire last year when I was the guest of a surprise birthday party for a well-known cardiologist.

I only got two hours’ notice, so I ended up singing Les Mis’s New York, New York, and Bring Him Home on a backing track on You Tube.

“Whether I play for royalty or for ordinary people, there is an anxiety that grows and grows, but then the pianist starts playing and I am instantly in another world.

“Now I almost exclusively sing songs from British and American musicals.

This week I’m doing a concert in Monaco where I’ll be singing everything from Anything Goes by Cole Porter and I’ve Got You Under My Skin, to songs by Evita.

Professor Saoudi donates every penny he earns singing to various musical charities, and twice a year he and Stuart perform at a nursing home.

He’s clearly a cardiologist with a big heart, as he also makes an annual trip to Morocco to implant pacemakers in the poor there.


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