Surgeon or Saint?

N Magazine

The inspiring Dr. Jim O’Connell.

In the summer of 2005, Jack Welch leaned over and whispered something to Dr. Cary Akins that made the cardiologist’s heart skip a beat. “I want to donate a million dollars to a charity of your choice,” the former chairman of General Electric said. The two Nantucket summer residents were sitting at a table at Topper’s, but only few months earlier, Welch was lying on Akins’s operating table undergoing bypass surgery. He now wanted to thank the doctor for saving his life by making a million-dollar donation in his honor. “Let me give it some thought,” Akins said.

The following spring, Welch opened his front door on Beacon Street in Boston to find Dr. Akins huddled under an umbrella with Dr. Jim O’Connell, the president of Boston’s Healthcare for the Homeless Program. The two doctors had met years earlier when Dr. O’Connell was just a medical student, but now Akins considered him to be something of a saint and deserving of Welch’s donation. It didn’t take long for him to make his case. “There was almost a halo around him,” Welch remembers. “If there ever was a saint on earth, it’s Jim O’Connell. He is about the most beautiful, caring individual you’ll ever meet.”