In the 1960s, when cardiac surgery was still a young field, Horace C. Stansel Jr., M.D., was already making his mark at Yale as a skillful, innovative pediatric heart surgeon. A member of the School of Medicine faculty until his death in 1994, Stansel built a reputation as a consummate physician, researcher, and educator, and was a mentor to generations of medical students and residents.
Known as “Stan” to friends and colleagues, Stansel trained with Ormand C. Julian, M.D., at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago and was recruited to Yale by William W.L. Glenn, M.D., then chief of the cardiac surgery section.
“As a junior faculty colleague, I learned a great deal from Stan,” recalls John E. Fenn, M.D., now clinical professor of surgery at the medical school. “He was a skilled surgeon who could think on his feet. He was a master at knowing how to get out of trouble in the operating room, and colleagues often called on him for assistance.”
Stansel also pushed the boundaries of surgical technique—the Damus-Kaye-Stansel procedure is still used by pediatric surgeons to treat congenital heart defects—and he trained numerous physician- scientists who went on to head surgery departments around the country. “Stan personified the commitment to lifelong learning that is so necessary to medicine,” says Fenn.
To carry on Stansel’s legacy, the Stansel family recently established an endowment that will provide support to Yale medical students conducting research in cardiac surgery. Known as the Horace C. Stansel Jr. Research Fund, the endowment will provide one- and two-year fellowships to students with financial need, allowing them to pursue research projects in both laboratory and clinical settings.
“Medical school was a struggle for Stan financially,” says Stansel’s widow, Doris Stansel. “He was very dedicated to his students and would be pleased to know that we are helping to make these opportunities available to them.”
Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., says that the new fund provides important backing for the unique “Yale system” of medical education, which places great emphasis on original research by students.
For example, with David D. Yuh, M.D., chief of the Section of Cardiac Surgery, students are working at the frontiers of surgical research. “Advances in mechanical, computational, and biomedical engineering have led to surgical therapies until recently thought unattainable,” Yuh says. “My section is engaged in exploring minimally invasive and even nonsurgical techniques to replace or repair diseased heart valves, and a new generation of devices to replace failing hearts functionally are already in clinical trials.”
Research to advance cardiac surgery is a particularly complex undertaking, explains Yuh, because the heart is an extremely complex machine. “We need a dynamic model to predict how a heart will behave after a surgical intervention, so we use advanced imaging techniques to build computer models of the beating heart. The many variables, including mechanical and fluid dynamics as well as human tissue properties, require an interdisciplinary research group, with students playing an important role.”
Or students may work with Pramod N. Bonde, M.D., who is developing wireless power supplies for cardiac assist devices. Some patients with failing hearts are outfitted with a mechanical pump, with a power cord routed through the abdomen. To eliminate the cord—a frequent source of infection—Bonde is testing charging technologies that transmit energy to an internal battery via electromagnetic waves.
“Yale faculty break new ground every day, and students in our program engage directly in generating this new knowledge,” Alpern says. “I am grateful that the Stansel family is supporting a program we see as a critical component in the education of tomorrow’s physician-scientists.”