American Surgical Association Transactions

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1924 - 2017

Alfred Schutt Ketcham, M.D., 1924-2017

Dr. Alfred Ketcham was born into a large, loving family in rural upstate New York. His father was a dairy farmer and Alf received his primary education in a one-room school serving several grades simultaneously. His first decade of life was challenged by poliomyelitis, mildly affecting one of his lower extremities permanently.

Despite these obstacles, he went on to graduate from Hobart College and the University of Rochester School of Medicine. He then went on to do his internship at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center and completed his General Surgery training in the USPHS. After his training, he began his career as Chief of Surgery of the USPHS Indian Hospital, Talihina for two years. In 1957, he was promoted to Senior Investigator in the NCI Surgery Branch, undertaking basic cancer research and became the Chief of the Surgery Branch. Alf came to the University of Miami to establish the Division of Surgical Oncology in 1974 at the invitation of Dr. Robert Zeppa, Chair of the Department of Surgery at the time.

His career spanned the eras of radical ablative surgery, adjuvant and neoadjuvant systemic therapies and conservative surgery for malignant disease. Along with Dr. John van Buren, his neurosurgical colleague at NIH, Alf was a pioneer in craniofacial and pelvic exenterative surgery for paranasal sinus carcinoma and advanced rectal, gynecological and perineal neoplasms. He was also among the early and top contributors of patients to Bernie Fisher's NSABP B-04 and B-06 randomized trials in breast cancer. He took great delight in breast-conserving surgery and fully approved of sentinel node biopsy for breast cancer, melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma. He authored or co-authored over 300 peer-reviewed contributions to the literature on a wide range of cancer-related issues and dilemmas.

Alf's irrepressibly sunny, upbeat personality was a perfect fit for a career in cancer. He had a marvelous way with people under the duress of malignant disease. He would see 40 or more patients twice a week with his Surgical Oncology fellows. Even well into the evening he would put patients and their families at ease and in the know, fully and kindly setting expectations, addressing risks and preparing them for what lay ahead. Alf loved people and was himself much loved and admired by all of us lucky enough to have known, worked with and learned from him.

Tragically, his wife Jane, the love of his life, and his only son Jeff pre-deceased him. His five daughters and daughter-in law live in South Florida.

May Jane, Jeff and Alf all rest in peace.