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Future of Thoracic Surgery, History of Thoracic Surgery

The cowboys and rodeo stars of thoracic surgery

There’s a great article in this month’s Annals of Thoracic Surgery, by Dr. Joseph Coselli, from Texas Heart Institute and the Michael DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor.   His article, entitled,” My heros have always been cowboys” is more than just a title torn from the song sheets of Willie Nelson.  It’s a look back at both the pioneers of cardiac surgery and his own experiences as a cardiac surgeon.  He also discusses the role of surgeons, and medical practitioners in American society in general and the promises we make to both society at large and our patients.

Here at Cirugia de Torax, I’d like to take a moment to look back at the surgeons that inspired and encouraged me in this and all of my endeavors.  Some of these surgeons knew me, and some of them didn’t – but their encouragement and kindnesses have spurred a career and life that have brought immense personal and professional satisfaction.

Like Dr. Coselli, I too, took inspiration from the likes of Dr. Denton Cooley.  But our stories diverge greatly from there.  I never met Dr. Cooley and I probably never will.  But it was a related story, from my former boss (and cardiothoracic surgeon), Dr. Richard Embrey that led to an email to Dr. Cooley himself.  My boss had too trained under Dr. Cooley, Dr. Debakey and the Texas Heart Institute, the citadel of American heart surgery.   Then, somehow, along the way – Dr. Embrey stopped to work at our little rural Virginia hospital.  We were the remnants of a larger Duke cardiothoracic program but we were a country hospital all the same.

While I learned the ins and outs of surgery from Dr. Embrey (and Dr. Geoffrey Graeber at West Virginia University) on a day-to-day basis, I was also weaned on the folklore of cardiothoracic surgery – stories of the giants of history, like the ones mentioned in Dr. Coselli’s article, as well as local Duke legends who occasionally roamed the halls of our tiny ICU and our two cardiothoracic OR suites; Dr. Duane Davis, Dr. Shu S. Lin and Dr. Peter Smith.  While never working side-by-side, Dr. D’Amico’s name was almost as familiar as my own.  As the sole nurse practitioner in this facility, without residents or fellows, there was no buffer, and little social divide in our daily practice.  Certainly, this changed me – and my perceptions.  I asked the ‘stupid’ questions but received intelligent and insightful answers.  I asked even more questions, and learned even more..

These opportunities fed my mind, and nurtured my ambitions.  Not to be a physician or a doctor, but to learn as much as possible about my specialty; to be the best nurse possible in my field.  It also nurtured a desire to share these experiences, and this knowledge with my peers, my patients and everyone else who ever had an interest.

It was that tiny little email, a gracious three-line reply from Dr. Cooley himself that made me realize that I didn’t have to rely on folklore and second-hand stories to hear more.  That’s critical; because as we’ve seen (here at Cirugia de Torax) there are a quite of few of “Masters of thoracic surgery” or perhaps future giants that haven’t had their stories told.  Dr. Coselli and his fellow writers haven’t written about them yet.. So I will.

Sometimes I interview famous (or semi-famous) surgeons here, but other times, I interview lesser-known but equally talented/ innovative or promising surgeons.  All of them share similar traits; dedication and love for the profession, immense surgical talent and proficiency and sincere belief in the future of technology of surgery.

So, let’s hope that it won’t take forty more years for these surgeons to be recognized for their contributions to thoracic surgery in the way that Cooley, DeBakey and Crawford are heralded in cardiac surgery.

K. Eckland, ACNP-BC

Founder & Editor -in – chief

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About K Eckland

World of Thoracic Surgery is a blog about the work, research, and practices of thoracic surgeons around the world. It includes case studies, [sometimes] dry research, interviews with thoracic surgeons along with patient perspectives, and feedback.

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