A band of brothers and sisters

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In this online issue of Vascular Specialist, we mourn the passing of five pioneer vascular surgeons. One of these, Dr. James DeWeese, worked with Dr. George Johnson to complete a book after the death of another renowned father of vascular surgery, Dr. Andrew Dale. The book’s title, “Band of Brothers: Creators of Modern Vascular Surgery,”was based on words by Shakespeare. It describes the lives and accomplishments of some of the founders of our specialty. Sadly, many of these great men have passed on.

Now, in just a few short months, we have lost five more innovators in our field. From their obituaries included in this online edition of Vascular Specialist, older surgeons will remember, and younger surgeons will learn about these fine men. Each in their own way made enormous contributions to the developing field of vascular and endovascular surgery. To single out just one of their accomplishments would be to diminish their other successes.

Dr. Russell H. Samson

But how can we overlook Dr. David S. Sumner’s book, coauthored with Dr. D. E. Strandness, “Haemodynamics for Surgeons,” and his help in developing noninvasive vascular tests; Dr. Wylie F. Barker’s monograph “Surgical Treatment of Peripheral Vascular Disease” and his first “endovascular” approach to removing femoropopliteal plaque; Dr. Robert B. Rutherford’s many editions of his eponymous “Vascular Surgery”and reporting standards for vascular disease and its treatment; Dr. DeWeese’s proving the concept of venous interruption for preventing pulmonary embolism and his development of training paradigms for vascular surgeons; or Dr. Roy Greenberg’s untimely illness, which still did not prevent him from developing new endovascular methods for treating complex aortic aneurysms.

But as we mourn the passing of these great men, I cannot help thinking that the title of the book “Band of Brothers: Creators of Modern Vascular Surgery” is now an anachronism. Although apt for that generation, its title contains a message that I believe is true for our times.

Let me explain. In those pioneering early days of vascular surgery, our numbers were small. Today, although the membership of the Society for Vascular Surgery approximates 5,000, we are still the smallest recognized medical specialty. On occasion we bemoan this fact, since our small numbers make it difficult for our collective voice to be recognized by organized medicine and our government.

However our small size is accompanied by some profound benefits. One of these, especially, is our ability to maintain collegial and working relationships that members of large societies may never enjoy. I was recently at the Southern Association for Vascular Surgery annual meeting at the Breakers in Florida. As I looked around the lecture theater and later at a cocktail party, I realized that we are now not just a “band of brothers” but rather a “band of brothers and sisters.”

Whereas in the pioneer days of our specialty men predominated, now women also play an essential role in vascular disease management. It would be unrealistic to mention all the women who have become so successful in our field, but how can I not highlight the fact that the current president of the Society for Vascular Surgery is Dr. Julie Freischlag and that many chairs of vascular surgery are now held by women? It is also obvious that fellowship programs are filling with aspiring women vascular surgeons.

But it’s not only the changing ratio of men to women that was so visible, but also the diversity of our membership, with surgeons of every background enjoying the communal spirit so obvious at these regional and national meetings. It was especially gratifying to watch the faces of our members as they interacted. I saw the pleasure they exhibited when meeting an old friend or on learning of the successes of a colleague’s family. I overheard enthusiastic and often heated arguments about various procedures, yet it was clear that they still delighted in the special camaraderie of surgeons dedicated to treating vascular disorders.

Yes, indeed we are a special group of doctors. We may often disagree with each other on medical matters, but we still enjoy each other’s company and work together to better the lives of our patients. It is not surprising, then, that we are devastated by the loss of friends and colleagues. In June at the Vascular Annual Meeting, we will bow our heads in a moment of silence and pay respect to those that have passed, famous or not. By this action we also commit to continue our thriving specialty, now comprised of men and women of diverse cultures and backgrounds.

So, perhaps in the not too distant future, another author will write a book whose title, inspired by Shakespeare, will be “We Band of Brothers and Sisters: Creators of Modern Vascular Surgery.”

Dr. Samson is a clinical professor of surgery (vascular), Florida State University School of Medicine, Tallahassee; a member of Sarasota (Fla.) Vascular Specialists; and the medical editor of Vascular Specialist.

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