Among his many professional achievements in a career of a “golden age of vascular surgery” that overlapped with the growth and maturation of vascular surgery and the endovascular revolution, Robert B. Smith III most remembers the “many young men and women who trained with us over those years and today excellently service patients’ needs.”
Smith, who retired 11 years ago, on Thursday morning officially received the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) Lifetime Achievement Award, one of the highest honors the SVS can bestow upon a member.
In performing the introduction, Past President Kim Hodgson, MD, called Smith “a venerated master who has left a lasting impact on the vascular world.” He actually was named award recipient in 2020 but cancellation of the 2020 Vascular Annual Meeting (VAM) moved his ceremony to this year. Due to health issues “of my lovely wife of 68 years,” Smith accepted the award via video from his home in Georgia.
He began his career as a resident at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, working with the famed Arthur Vorhees, MD, who invented a plastic prosthesis for correction of diseased arterial segments. “He was a great teacher who became a friend and collaborator until his death in 1992,” said Smith.
His residency, said Hodgson, “jump-started his immersion in vascular surgery where his career overlapped with the growth and maturation of vascular surgery and the endovascular revolution.”
After residency he returned to Emory University—where he’d attended college and medical school—as a faculty member. There, Garland Perdue, MD, “congenial colleague, active role model and gifted administrator,” was also his benefactor.
He and Perdue performed Georgia’s first successful renal transplant, and he helped refine the distal splenorenal shunt, a major innovation in the care of patients with portal hypertension, said Hodgson. Surgeons from across the country have visited Emory to observe the liver team performing shunt procedures.
In 1969, they started a vascular surgery fellowship, comprised of one additional year of training after general surgery training. It was “one of the earliest such programs in country and the first to receive approval by a national accrediting agency,” said Smith.
“We trained more than 60 vascular surgery residents” over more than four decades, he added, who are now working across the country and even the world. Four, in fact, followed Smith as Emory’s head of vascular surgery: Alan Lumsden, MD, Elliot Chaikof, MD, Thomas Dodson, MD, and the current chair, William Jordan, MD.
In turn, those trainees praise Smith, calling him “both a master surgeon and the go-to vascular surgeon at Emory,” said Hodgson.
“I am an admiring enthusiast for what you and your teams do on daily basis,” Smith told the VAM audience. “I am aware it is a great privilege to be a physician and even more a surgeon and especially a surgeon in a subspecialty, that frequently is a life-, brain- or limb-saving discipline.”
Receiving the award is the “highest honor of my professional career and I am profoundly grateful, he said. “It’s a humbling experience as I join those prestigious leaders who have received this award previously.”
The award also “is an affirmation of the entire division of vascular surgery at Emory,” he added, thanking Hodgson and others “for this very special recognition.”