There was a special session convened yesterday at CX to appreciate and recognise Edward B Diethrich’s life, untrammelled spirit, masterful surgical competence, and enormous influence in the cardiovascular field. The internationally esteemed cardiovascular surgeon, inventor, and philanthropist died on 23 February 2017 at the age of 81.
Representing the surgeon’s family was his grand-daughter, Tatum Jackson, who is attending medical school in the USA and is spending a year of her studies in Newcastle, UK. Also on the panel were Roger Greenhalgh, London, UK, and chairman of the CX Programme Organising Board; Rodney White, Torrance, USA; and Donald Reid, Wishaw, UK.
Tatum thanked everyone for appreciating her grandfather and also said that it was exciting to be beginning in the field of medicine and learning more about the Arizona-based physician, not as a grandfather but as Dr Diethrich.
Greenhalgh recalled meeting Diethrich when he was doing brilliant open heart surgery under the tutelage of Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley in Houston, USA. “Surrounded by greats, he still shone in that environment. When DeBakey first went to the desert in Houston, he turned it into the ‘Mecca’ of open vascular surgery. What Ted Diethrich did was go from there to the desert in Arizona and he founded endovascular surgery. That is how I want you to remember Ted Diethrich,” he said.
Reid, who worked with Diethrich, noted that Diethrich came to international prominence when he famously persuaded DeBakey to do one of the first heart transplants. He also assisted in many of the earliest coronary artery bypass procedures, multiple organ transplantations and other revolutionary procedures. “He took this ethos to the Arizona Heart Foundation, which he set up, and its reputation worldwide is excellent. On a personal note, he was incredibly generous to me and many others and he had what I thought was a spirit of adventure in surgery, which he tried to instil into everybody that he taught,” Reid said.
The dissemination of revolutionary new ideas and innovations through new media to the public was a cornerstone of Diethrich’s philosophy, so it was particularly fitting that it was through a video, in his own voice, that CX heard how Diethrich’s distinct vision and unconventional approach shaped his extraordinary 50-year career. Diethrich was a man who achieved many “firsts”: he set up the first outpatient heart clinic; the first outpatient cath lab; broadcast the first national health survey; and led the first worldwide broadcast of live open heart surgery.
Diethrich, a founder and champion of endovascular surgery, was always “looking beyond” to see how patients could be treated differently and better. Sometimes, this involved going against the establishment, but this did not deter him. Educating the public was also an important goal and Diethrich did not hesitate to break new ground, even when he did not have the approval of others in the cardiovascular field. “It does not do any good to develop sophisticated screening technology and to be able to predict heart death and stroke and so forth, if people don’t know about it,” he said.
Towards the end of his career, Diethrich revealed how many of his colleagues from all over the world had become his friends and publically endorsed the ideas and the movements he created—a fitting tradition of building and teamwork.