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Cardiothoracic surgeon honored by Surgical Society

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2011 - Spring


At its annual reunion the Yale Surgical Society recognized the achievements of John Elefteriades.

It was standing room only when the Yale Surgical Society honored John A. Elefteriades, M.D.’76, HS ’81, FW ’83, during the 16th annual spring reunion on June 1. Elefteriades, the William W.L. Glenn Professor and chief of Cardiac Surgery, gave the surgical grand rounds bicentennial talk, “Cardiac Surgery at Yale: A Brief History of Past Unique Achievements and Recent Developments in Understanding the Thoracic Aorta.” Elefteriades has published more than 150 papers, nine books, and several popular articles describing his breakthroughs in understanding thoracic disease.

He began his talk with a remembrance of his academic advisor at the School of Medicine, and the father of cardiac surgery at Yale, William W.L. Glenn, M.D. Glenn, Elefteriades remembered, was a compulsively detailed doctor, working through weekends and hurricanes to check on his patients and guide his residents. He was critical in shaping Elefteriades’ understanding of cardiac surgery, even if he did mistakenly call Elefteriades “George” for fifteen years. “I’m Greek, so he had a good shot,” said Elefteriades, who directs the Aortic Institute at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

“We have had the enemy’s playbook for the last 14 years, and we know their two moves,” said Elefteriades as he described his work on dissection and rupture, the two deadly “plays” that can create an aortic aneurysm.

The destructive and surprising disease, he said, can strike the young, athletic, and seemingly healthy. Lucille Ball, John Ritter, and Albert Einstein all died of aortic aneurysms. Creative and successful types are at risk for an enlarged aorta, Elefteriades said, as are athletes. Weightlifters, as one of Elefteriades nurses pointed out to him, are at an increased risk of dissection and rupture because systolic blood pressure rises sharply during resistance exercises.

Elefteriades ended his remarks with the silver lining he sees in his research: New genetic tests could help pinpoint those at risk for aortic disease; new technology, like portable echocardiogram machines, could help regulate mandatory tests for high school and college athletes.

Duke Cameron, M.D. ’78, HS ’84, the James T. Dresher Sr. Professor of Surgery and Chief of Cardiac Surgery at Johns Hopkins University, and the special guest at the reunion, described the special relationship between Yale and Hopkins. Giants like pioneering neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing, M.D.; William S. Halsted, M.D.; and Daniel Gilman, M.D., (Hopkins’ first president), who studied at Yale and went on to work at Hopkins, helped shaped both schools’ reputations in the field of surgery. Three of the last four chiefs of cardiac surgery at Hopkins have been Yale graduates. The current chair of surgery at Yale, Robert Udelsman, M.D., M.B.A., the William H. Carmalt Professor of Surgery, came to Yale from Hopkins.

Noting the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s maxim that “geography is fate,” Cameron said the schools share a similar geography and history—both are medium-sized port cities where the last economic boom came in the 19th century. Now, Baltimore and New Haven are known for their universities, which are also their major employers.

Also recognized at the reunion were the recipients of two awards. The Lindskog International Award was given to medical student Kivash Nikkhou, who did work in Zambia earlier this year. The Sam Harvey Award, selected by residents for general excellence by a resident went to Jason Prescott, M.D., Ph.D.

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