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Published on April 04, 2019

Connections: How the neurosurgery team Came togetherHow the neurosurgery team Came together

The team at Cape Cod Healthcare Neurosurgery has been in existence for nearly a half century. The current physician members of the team have strong links to the department’s founders—and to one another.

“We’re like a family. We all have some deeper connection,” said Paul Houle, MD, FAANS, who heads the group.

In 1993, Dr. Houle was a third-year medical student at Boston University School of Medicine and he did his general surgery rotation at Cape Cod Hospital, where, working closely with neurosurgeon Patrick Murray, MD, he became inspired to pursue a career in neurological surgery. As part of his residency in neurosurgery, Dr. Houle spent a year training in general surgery at Dartmouth Medical School (renamed the Geisel School of Medicine in 2012) in Hanover, NH. There, he met another resident, Achilles Papavasiliou, MD, FAANS, and the two became friends while covering the weekend general surgery service at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont.

“I told him how great Cape Cod Hospital was, and that when we finish our residencies, we’re going to come here,” recalled Dr. Houle.

And that’s just what happened. After completing his residency at the University of Georgia, Dr. Houle came to Hyannis to work with Dr. Murray and Robert Leaver, MD, the founder of Neurosurgeons of Cape Cod, the precursor to Cape Cod Healthcare Neurosurgery. Dr. Papavasiliou completed his neurosurgery residency and joined the team in 2003.

When Dr. Leaver retired in 2004, Dr. Houle reached out to Gordon Nakata, MD, FAANS, who was married to his cousin. They were living in California and eventually moved to the Cape in 2008, when Dr. Nakata became part of the neurosurgery team at Cape Cod Hospital.

The retirement of Dr. Murray created a new opening on the team. Perusing potential applicants to fill the job, Dr. Houle noticed something intriguing about one candidate, Nicholas Coppa, MD, FAANS. He originally hailed from Cranston, Rhode Island, the community next to Dr. Houle’s hometown of Warwick. Dr. Coppa at the time was an assistant professor of neurological surgery at Oregon Health & Science University and wanted to move his family back east. Interestingly, Dr. Coppa had never been to Cape Cod prior to coming for an interview at the hospital.

“As I drove around the Cape, I thought ‘I can see setting up shop here’,” said Dr. Coppa, who joined the team in 2013.

The neurosurgery team is now rounded out by David Leppla, MD, FAANS, who came to Cape Cod Hospital after spending 13 years in private practice in Reno, Nevada. Like Dr. Nakata, he’s a California native, but family drew him to make the move: Dr. Leppla’s three daughters all attend college on the East Coast.