The Formative Years of CVT Surgery
McGill University developed from the rich tradition of leadership in the dawn of this specialty. Early in this century, Dr. Archibald made important contributions to the surgery of pulmonary tuberculosis, and was one of the forefathers of Thoracic Surgery on this continent. Dr. Fraser B. Gurd was elected as the President of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery in 1941.
In succeeding years, Drs. Norman Bethune, Dag Munro, and James Wilson followed, contributing significantly to the advance of Thoracic Surgery. In the 1940s, Dr. Arthur Vineberg pioneered surgery for coronary artery disease. Shortly after the relocation of the Montreal General Hospital (MGH) to its new facility on Cedar Avenue in 1955, a pivotal development in Cardiothoracic Surgery occurred. In the late 1950s, Drs. Anthony Dobell and Harry Scott initiated open heart surgery at McGill, ushering in the modern era of cardiac surgery.
In 1959, Dr. H. Rocke Robertson became Chairman of the Department of Surgery, and shortly later appointed an experienced general surgeon, Dr. Harry J. Scott, who was trained at McGill and the Lahey Clinic in Boston, as the Head of the Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Service at the MGH site. Dr. Fraser N. Gurd, who succeeded Dr. Robertson as Chair of the Department of Surgery at the MGH, encouraged the development of a university-based training program,
under the direction of Dr. A.R.C. Dobell, which was approved by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. Dr. Dobell had just returned from training under Dr. Gibbon in Philadelphia, and was well known for his ability to instil a deep sense of humility, honesty, along with technical excellence and academic devotion. The first historic open heart surgery at the MGH was carried out successfully on a young woman with congenital atrial septal defect on June 30th, 1960, by a team of surgeons Drs. Anthony R. C. Dobell and Harry J. Scott, while cardiac bypass using a disc oxygenator was maintained by the first perfusionist, Mr. Roger Samson.
The first formally trained CVT surgeon to join the MGH’s CVT Service was Dr. Peter Blundell, who was a resident under Dr. Wilfred Bigelow, a pioneer in hypothermia for cardiac surgery at the University of Toronto. He received further training at the Mayo Clinic and Great Ormond Street in London, England. He was recruited by Drs. Gurd and Scott in 1965 as a staff surgeon at the MGH, and appointed an Assistant Professor in the McGill Faculty of Medicine. Upon the retirement of Dr. Scott in 1988, Dr. Blundell took over as the Director of the Division of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at the MGH. He was a bidextrous, dedicated and skilled surgeon, who played a major role in patient care and teaching for over three decades until his retirement in 1998.
Dr. David S. Mulder, graduating “magna cum laude” from the University of Saskatchewan School of Medicine, arrived in Montreal in 1963 to pursue surgical training at McGill. It was in 1964-1965 when he did research towards a M.Sc. thesis on “A study of myocardial function in hemorrhagic shock”, which stimulated his interest in training for CVT surgery at the MGH. He then spent two years at the University of Iowa under Dr. J.L. Ehrenhaft before returning to the MGH as an Assistant Professor in Surgery in 1971. In the subsequent years, he rapidly rose to the rank of Full Professor and served as Chairman of the Department of Surgery at McGill University from 1982 to 1987, and again from 1993 to 1998. He assumed many national and international surgical leadership roles as well, including the Presidencies of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (1984-1985), Central Surgical Association (2000-2001), Governor of the American College of Surgeons (1986), and received the honour of Order of Canada in 1997. He was the Director of the Division of General Thoracic Surgery from 2000-2011.
In 1971, Dr. Ray Chu-Jeng Chiu was recruited to the McGill CVT Surgery Division, after he received a PhD in Experimental Surgery from McGill in 1970. He was a graduate of the National Taiwan University College of Medicine. He did his internship at Baltimore City Hospital affiliated with Johns Hopkins University under Dr. Mark Ravitch, and residencies at the Downstate Medical Center in New York (1962-1968), where Dr. Clarence Dennis, a pioneer in extracorporeal circulation, was the Chairman of Surgery. In 1980, matured as a surgeon scientist, Dr. Chiu was appointed as Professor and Director of the University Surgical Clinic at the MGH, which had been established by Dr. Rocke Robertson to expose surgical trainees to surgical research in the laboratories.
The Division of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery was established and the Residency Program inaugurated in 1965. Dr. Dobell was appointed Chairman and served until 1992 when he was succeeded by Dr. Ray Chiu as Chairman and Program Director. Dr. Chiu stepped down in 2000, succeeded by Dr. David Mulder as Head of the Division until 2004. Dr. Benoit de Varennes then became Head of the Division of Cardiac Surgery (2004-2013); and since 2013, Dr. Renzo Cecere is the Interim Head of the Division.
Dr. Patrick Ergina was Program Director from 2000 to 2003. From 2003-2005, Dr. David Mulder was Interim Program Director. In 2005, Dr. Kevin Lachapelle became the Program Director of Cardiac Surgery until August 2016. Currently, Dr. Patrick Ergina has once again been appointed to the Program Director position . Over the years, more than fifty surgeons have completed the residency program and practice the profession in the United States, Canada and elsewhere. Others came for research training and obtained graduate degrees. Many of our alumni are leaders in other major universities and communities. Thus, this academic Division continues to strive for its vision of a well-balanced excellence in patient care, teaching and research in cardiothoracic surgery.
In those days, Thoracic, Cardiac and peripheral Vascular Surgeries were under one roof, thus named “Division of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery”. Although the specialty of Cardiovascular Surgery services were separately established at several sites in the McGill teaching hospitals which included the Montreal General Hospital, the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Montreal Children’s Hospital for teaching and training of medical students and residents, it was unified under the umbrella of the McGill Division of CVT Surgery, chaired by Dr. Dobell. Then in 1994, Vascular Surgery became a separate program, thus creating the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at McGill that same year. In 1997, the Division of Cardiac Surgery originated and was accredited by the Royal College.
In 2008, the adult Cardiac Surgery units which were developed separately over the years at both the MGH and the RVH sites were unified, and presently located at the RVH until the “super hospital” at Glen Yards is realized. The General Thoracic Surgery Service is concentrated at the MGH, while the Vascular Surgery Service has been developed at the RVH site. Nevertheless, McGill CVT Surgery will undoubtedly continue to flourish by leading this field of surgical care to benefit future generations of patients in this city, and by advancing our skills and knowledge to improve the quality of life for the humanity at large.