An “amazing clinician and leader.” Devoted to the specialty of vascular surgery. Investigator and researcher. Champion of the in-situ technique for lower-extremity bypass. Former SVS secretary and president. And a leader in creating the Vascular Surgery Board (VSB).
For all these accomplishments, and more, the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) bestowed upon Jonathan B. Towne, MD—to a standing ovation—one of its highest honors: the SVS Lifetime Achievement Award.
“The older you get the sweeter it is,” he told the 2022 Vascular Annual Meeting (VAM) in Boston (June 15–18), the venue in which he received the award. He had no speech prepared, but simply said, “I thank you. I had the very good fortune of being involved with vascular surgery relatively early on and in its early adolescence,” he said.
“Vascular surgery had a stormy, stormy young adulthood; it’s now matured and as I look around and follow what’s happening, I like where you are,” he said. “Thanks to all of you who helped me do the things I was involved with that led to this. It is indeed an honor.”
His path to Thursday’s award was influenced by chance. In medical school at the University of Rochester, Towne met vascular pioneer Charles Rob, MD, who was developing the concept of vein bypass grafting. That sparked an interest in surgery and what was evolving to become the specialty of vascular surgery.
Following medical school, general surgery residency and a two-year stint in the Air Force, Towne continued his training with a fellowship at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Victor Bernhard, MD, then recruited Towne to join the faculty at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), where he would spend his entire professional career until his retirement in 2007.
There, Towne and Bernhard started one of the earliest vascular fellowships. Towne eventually trained 29 fellows plus countless general surgery residents and medical students. One of his mentees said, “Under his leadership, the Division of Vascular Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin became a major regional referral center, which it remains today.”
He established at MCW and at a Veterans Affairs center intensive follow-up protocols, maintained to this day.
Towne served as a principal investigator for a “seminal study” that established carotid endarterectomy as an effective treatment in preventing stroke in patients with asymptomatic carotid artery disease, a colleague said. Towne embraced endovascular therapy both early on and, as the technology evolved, participated in early studies evaluating endovascular aneurysm repair (EVAR) for abdominal aortic aneurysms. He was an early adopter of the team strategy in vascular surgery and supported and promoted expertise in the vascular lab and vascular nursing.
A former colleague said, “We would not be where we are today as a specialty or a society if it had not been for Jon Towne leading the way during uncharted times.”