Defying Barriers

It is a field many surgeons dread, but one in which Dr. Elizabeth Butler has excelled.

The cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon at St. Mary’s Ohio Valley HeartCare is one of only 200 women in the nation who have been certified by the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, and one of only 100 women who actually practice cardiac surgery.

“It’s a small number,” says Dr. Butler. “There exists that aspect of being a woman in one of the last male-dominated areas of society. There have been some barriers. It is certainly a tough lifestyle.”

Across the country, there are fewer than 2,000 practicing cardiothoracic surgeons. There are only three other doctors who perform surgeries similar to Dr. Butler here in Evansville, including Dr. Butler’s partner at St. Mary’s Ohio Valley HeartCare, Dr. John Brock.

Dr. Butler attended medical school at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio, Texas. She completed her residency at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and finished her cardiac training at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

“I was doing my general surgery training and I actually thought about surgical oncology, which is the surgical treatment of cancer,” she says. “Then, when I was in my second year of training, the rotation that no one really wanted to do was cardiothoracic surgery. It has the longest hours, the most sleepless nights, and the few times I got to be at home, I had to answer every phone call as if it were a page. Sometimes, I would get over 120 pages a day. But,” she adds, “I really liked it.”

In January, 53-year-old Earl Crowe of Griffin, Indiana, saw Dr. Butler’s passion for her job firsthand when he went in to have a hip replacement done. It was then discovered that he had a heart murmur and significant blockage had developed.

“You can tell when a doctor is dedicated to helping people or who got into it for the money,” says Crowe, who had to be revived multiple times during surgery. “Whenever I needed her, she was there.

“Dr. Butler was there the whole time in the waiting room. She stuck with me through the whole thing. She never gave up.”

Dr. Butler has been in Evansville for the last six years. She is married to Dr. Stephen Lanzarotti, a surgeon at Evansville Surgery Center, and the couple have three children, Elise, 5, Eleanora, 3, and recently welcomed their son James, who was born at St. Mary’s Women’s Hospital this June.

For more information about St. Mary’s, call 812-485-4000 or visit

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