George Lavenson, Vietnam and Gulf War veteran, advocate for carotid disease screening in seniors, dies

George S. Lavenson Jr.

George S. Lavenson Jr., lovingly referred to as “Doc” by his many friends, died Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023, on the beautiful island of Maui, Hawaii, where he chose to share a life in majestic Lahaina with his loving wife, Judy. He was 91. George leaves behind four children, Mark, Jim, Patricia and Dean, and three grandchildren, Kelsey, Luke, and Oliver. 

As a vascular and general surgeon, George worked tirelessly up until his last days educating and advocating for screening seniors for stroke prevention. When not at his desk researching and writing, George enjoyed reading, cooking, photography, jazz, flying, surfing, cycling, and driving his bright candy-apple red Miata, or cruising on his yellow Harley Davidson motorcycle around the island. 

Born in Tacoma, Washington, on Jan. 29, 1932, George graduated from the University of Washington in 1954, and the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1957. He completed his residency in general surgery at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu in 1965. George went on to complete a vascular surgery fellowship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1968 under the mentorship of Col. (retired) Norman Rich. 

George served as a surgeon in the Vietnam War with the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh in 1968 and 1969, and was one of the pioneers of Doppler ultrasound to assess blood flow and viability in injured extremities on the battlefield. As an active-duty Army surgeon at the time, stationed at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, George presented this first-of-its-kind experience as a study and manuscript from the podium at the International Society of Cardiovascular Surgery (ISCVS) in Philadelphia in June 1971. The paper was accepted two weeks later and published in Archives of Surgery (now JAMA Surgery) later that fall. Traveling to Philadelphia as an Army officer in 1971 and presenting this paper in uniform amidst the intense anti-war sentiments of the country at the time was undoubtedly an act of courage itself, not to mention the groundbreaking clinical results from their downrange experience using Doppler ultrasound. 

Later in life, George returned to active duty during the Persian Gulf War with the 44th Evacuation Hospital in Saudi Arabia. Despite his civilian practice and then distance traveled when he lived in Lahaina, George had an unwavering commitment to military surgeons and trainees. 

He showed up. George rarely missed the annual December meeting of the Military Vascular Surgery Society in Bethesda, Maryland. He made in-person visits to Walter Reed and the Uniformed Services University to see faculty, residents, and students. And, since Frank Veith, MD, started them at the VEITHsymposium in 2005 or 2006, George never missed sessions that are a tribute to military surgery. 

For a decade-plus, as military surgeons were enduring deployments and caring for the injured during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, George was present to discuss cases, provide his perspectives and, most importantly, his encouragement. Nothing epitomized George’s commitment to military surgery more than his volunteering to participate in the Society for Vascular Surgery Senior Visiting Surgeon Program, which included him spending time at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany during the height of the wars. After 20 years of service as an Army officer, George never abandoned the needs of military personnel, volunteering his trauma surgical and critical care skills at various times and in various locations. 

Most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, George volunteered to participate in the Department of Defense’s global pandemic response teleconferences. George joined remotely during the spring of 2020 from his home in Lahaina, astutely pointing out the similarities between COVID-related pulmonary dysfunction and lessons he and his generation had learned from managing Da Nang lung in the combat-injured in Vietnam five decades earlier. George was enthusiastic in conveying his wartime critical care experience, and his perspective as to how today’s Military Health System might optimize management of pulmonary failure amidst the pandemic. 

In addition to his years of military service, George had a busy clinical practice in Visalia, California, for 30 years, serving as chair of the Department of Surgery from 1978–1983. 

Amongst George’s proudest achievements in civilian medicine was development of a cost-effective stroke prevention screening protocol involving the “LAV Scan” after his own name. George’s innovation and lifelong advocacy for stroke prevention was recognized and honored by the Western Vascular Society as recently as last year. On his deathbed on Aug. 17, George wrote his final statement: 

  1. Carotid artery disease is the leading immediate cause of strokes. 
  2. Some 80% of cases in carotid artery disease are asymptomatic prior to the stroke that it causes. 
  3. The only possible means of reducing strokes in a large epidemiology scale is to find asymptomatic carotid disease so that a stroke can be managed preventively by screening senior populations for asymptomatic carotid disease. 
  4. Controls for proper application can be applied. 
  5. How to screen seniors: The only way to find carotid artery disease is to screen seniors, which can be done with a LAV Scan. 

George’s presence was a constant for decades and he will be greatly missed. But rest assured George’s legacy lives. Rest in peace George. Mahalo. 

Online condolences: Donations in George’s honor can be made to The Red Cross Maui Disaster Relief Fund. 


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