Ann Thorac Surg 2003;76:S2199-S2200
© 2003 The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
a Department of Surgery, Cooper Hospital, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Camden, New Jersey, USA
* Address reprint requests to Dr Camishion, 1101 Cherry Lane, Cinnaminson, NJ 08077, USA.
Presented at the symposium, "Gibbon & His Heart-Lung Machine: 50 Years & Beyond," Philadelphia, PA, May 2, 2003.
After completion of my surgical residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Dr Gibbon invited me to remain on the full-time faculty at the Jefferson Medical College. I was given a small office, a laboratory, a secretary and technical help. I can't remember how it happened but I was soon making daily late-afternoon rounds with Dr Gibbon on his private patients. I covered him when he was away, which was often, at nights for emergencies and on weekends. I also assisted him on operations that he thought might be particularly difficult. This continued until he retired; thus over the years we became fairly close friends.
Doctor Gibbon took great pride in being a general surgeon although his forte was thoracic surgery. As an examiner for the American Board of Surgery he enjoyed quizzing candidates on fractures and was quite disturbed when they did not know much about that field. One time, when performing an abdominal procedure it turned out that the patient needed a hysterectomy. He stated that this was a relatively simple operation that he would do himself. The operation turned out to be quite exciting and I believe the end result was that he lost enthusiasm for gynecologic surgery. While assisting, I learned never to say that a pulmonary tumor was probably nonresectable as this seemed to challenge him to prove that I was wrong. That in turn also led to some exciting operations.
After the world's first successful open heart operation using total cardiopulmonary bypass, he performed two more procedures using the machine. Both patients had an error in diagnosis and died after the operation. He said he no longer had any desire to do procedures that had such a high operative mortality. He had great respect for John Y. Templeton III, a member of his staff, and turned over the further development of cardiac surgery at Jefferson to him.
Often after late-afternoon rounds, when it was time to go home, he would invite me to have a drink together at the Hoffman House, a small restaurant with a bar around the corner from Jefferson Hospital. He always had a double Manhattan. Sometimes two. At these times conversation came easily. He either was or had been president of nearly all of the important surgical societies in the United States. He chaired significant National Institutes of Health committees and was chairman of the American Board of Surgery. He had been a Visiting Professor at many institutions and gave many honored lectureships. Thus it was natural that he would describe his experiences and I learned a lot about national surgical politics and prominent American surgeons.
Doctor Gibbon was a man of intense focus as exemplified by his unflagging research on extracorporeal circulation over a period of 20 years. This characteristic was found in almost every aspect of his life. For example he was a heavy smoker and developed a chronic dry cough. He suddenly decided to quit smoking, cold turkey. A few months later the cough remained and one day he confided in me that he had carcinoma of the lung. Of course I was shocked and asked when he had discovered this disaster. He said that he had not yet proved it but knew that he was right. My response was "Let's go get a chest roentgenogram." He said that was not possible now because he was in the midst of editing his book Surgery of the Chest, and if his diagnosis was confirmed he would be obligated to follow through and couldn't meet the deadline for completion of the book imposed by the publisher. I know this problem was always on his mind as he was continuously hacking. The day after the final manuscripts were turned over to the publisher he went to the radiology department and had a chest roentgenogram. He asked me to look at it for him and I found it was normal. We then adjourned to the Hoffman House.
Another example of his intensity was an experience I had with him as coauthor of a paper that was to be presented at a national meeting. The night before, we roomed together. A manuscript of the paper had to be handed in after the presentation so he wanted to review it. As this was my first presentation before a national group I was quite apprehensive. I thought the manuscript was well done and needed no modification but he proceeded to demolish it. We stayed up quite late rewriting the paper. One point that particularly bothered him was that I had abbreviated cubic centimeters as cc. He insisted that since cubic centimeters were two words, it should be abbreviated as c.c. Despite my mild protests the patched-up paper was handed in with apologies after my presentation. When the galley proofs arrived the journal editors had changed all the abbreviations back to cc. Doctor Gibbon immediately called the editor on the phone and after arguing for awhile they decided to consult an arbitrator. They chose an editor of a well-known journal who was considered an expert in medical writing. The expert decided that the abbreviation should be cc. Doctor Gibbon considered withdrawing the paper, which alarmed me because at that time I had only a few publications and was very proud of that work. He finally gave in with a side comment that "the editors were illiterate."
John H. Gibbon, Jr, was a patrician by birth and breeding. He attended the finest schools and was a member of the elite clubs and societies in Philadelphia. While he appeared aloof and uncaring, when with his peers he was talkative, animated, friendly, and well liked. Although his persona was different as Chief, I assure you it was a façade.
Doctor Gibbon also was very competitive. I believe that he unconsciously had a rivalry with his father, John H. Gibbon, Sr, MD, a prominent Philadelphian and national surgeon who had been professor of surgery at Jefferson Medical College and president of the American Surgical Association. Gibbon Sr was not in favor of his son's early inclination toward a career as a writer nor his later penchant for surgical research. In the long run, Gibbon Jr surpassed his father's achievements but I never heard him say so.
When he retired and left medicine completely he found a new challenge. His father-in-law, Charles Hopkinson, was a noted portrait painter in Boston. I understand his works are in the White House and in museums. Anyone who has ever been to Lynfield Farms, the Gibbon homestead, has seen Hopkinson's portraits of the Gibbon children and the Gibbon family. Gibbon took up portrait painting with a vengeance. He painted several prominent Philadelphians and once asked me to sit for a portrait. I declined, saying that by this time I was quite busy with clinical and administrative duties and couldn't spare the time. Often after completing a portrait he would ask me to visit and give a critique. These episodes proved to be a severe test of my equanimity. Suffice it to say, in my humble amateur's opinion he did not surpass his father-in-law in painting.
His other challenge in retirement was tennis, a game that he had played since his youth. There was a court on the farm where he played doubles almost daily with friends. Then, he had a myocardial infarction followed by angina. Despite my urgings to have a complete cardiologic evaluation he continuously declined. I guess he was not prepared to follow through with what the studies might discover. He continued to play tennis as before, until a massive myocardial infarction felled him on the tennis court at age 69.
John H. Gibbon, Jr, was a man, a surgeon, a researcher, and a mentor to be admired.
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