Celebrating a History of Innovation

Exactly 55 years ago this morning, a young boy from Alexandria was wheeled into an operating room here. In his own words, “Dr. Lillehei opened my chest and put me on the way to good health. So grateful and humbled by what was done for me at the U of M.” This one surgery had far-reaching impact.

This boy grew up and has led a remarkable life. He received his bachelor’s degree in Mortuary Science here (which, in an amazing bit of synchronicity is celebrating its 110th Anniversary on November 2). He has served his community in many ways, but the way we probably know him best is as Regent Thomas J Anderson.

This is a perfect example of how we are intertwined with this state’s history and future. Pediatric cardiology had been a focus at the University of Minnesota for many years, and the surgery that saved Regent Anderson’s life could only have happened because of breakthroughs that happened here. In the 1940s, a young physician in our Medical School would perform the world’s first heart catheterization of a neonate. The Variety Club Heart Hospital opened in 1951 and was the first hospital in the country exclusively focused on treating heart disorders. In 1952, we performed the first successful open-heart surgery. In 1954, Lillehei and his team perfected the cross-circulation technique that would make it possible to have longer surgeries and treat more complicated heart problems. In 1958, Lillehei, Varco and Bakken (who we lost only this week) developed the world’s first portable, external cardiac pacemaker.

These developments were driven by basic research—in the laboratory, in animals, in the clinic. They were powered by a relentless drive for quick translation and the desire to use them to improve the health of our patients as quickly as possible.

All of this culminated in saving the life of one boy. A boy who would return to the University to get his bachelor’s degree. And who would return again to serve in one of our highest leadership roles.

Our research impact continues, and I hope you will join me this Thursday, October 25, 4:00-7:00 PM in the Northrop Auditorium as we celebrate our achievements in Neuroscience—identified at our department heads’ retreat in August as one of the three priorities of the Medical School. Drs. Sophia Vinogradov and David Redish will give our Dean’s Distinguished Research Lectures, and we will celebrate the addition of six scholars to the Wall of Scholarship. James Ervasti, John Lipscomb, Daniel Voytas, Sue Duval, Timothy Wilt and Elizabeth Arendt have all written publications that have impacted science and medicine as demonstrated by their papers having more than 1000 citations.

As we celebrate Regent Anderson’s good health, our neuroscience program and our outstanding scholars, we should remember what our Medical School does best, whether through research, education, or clinical care. We change the practice of medicine—one life at a time.