American Surgical Association Transactions

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1933 - 2014

Christian Herfarth, M.D., 1933-2014

Christian Herfarth was born in Wroclaw in 1933, the hometown of Martin Kirschner and Fritz Linder – his predecessors in the position of Chairman of Surgery in Heidelberg. His parents were Hanni and Dr. Heinrich Herfarth, a surgeon. During the second world war the family had to move several times taking his father to positions in Glogau, Leipzig, Plauen and southern Germany before they finally settled in Trier in 1948 where his father had become head of the Surgical Service at the Evangelical Elisabeth Hospital.

After finishing high school, Christian Herfarth started medical school in 1952 at Tübingen University. After studying in Vienna and Hamburg, Herfarth completed his University education in Heidelberg in 1957 and received a “summa cum laude” M.D. degree in the same year for his thesis on the impact of connective tissue in the renal glomerulum under the supervision of the Heidelberg pathologist Edmund Renderath. He completed his medical assistant period in Renderath’s department before moving to Marburg to begin his surgical career in 1960. After fellowship and residency, he received the degree of PhD in Marburg in 1966 examining the pathophysiology of surgical approaches to the liver which underlines his scientific engagement in parallel to his clinical work as an academic surgeon. In 1968 Herfarth changed to Freiburg University Hospital and was appointed Deputy Chairman and associate Professor there in 1970. In 1973, Christian Herfarth was appointed Professor of Surgery and Chairman of the Department at Ulm University, a position he held for eight years before moving to Heidelberg and becoming the Chairman and Professor of Surgery in the renowned Department of Surgery following Fritz Linder who retired in 1981. Accompanying his career, Herfarth spent various times in foreign departments, i.e. with Prof. Thomas Starzl at the University of Colorado, Denver.

From 1981 to 2001 he led the Department of Surgery in Heidelberg to new horizons, introducing the first liver transplantation (1987) as well as pancreas transplantation. Besides his focus on chronic inflammatory bowel diseases and the emerging surgical strategies (i.e. ileoanal pouch surgery), his visionary concepts resulted in the foundation of a section for molecular oncology, the establishment of a Professorship for Surgical Oncology in his department as well as the strong support of a regional tumor center, all of these projects were highly successful and represented innovative concepts in the 1980s and 1990s making Heidelberg an outstanding institution and paving the path for future leading developments. One of Christian Herfarth's great merits as a surgeon was his ability to recognize scientific and practical paradigm changes in the field of surgery at an early stage. He confidently represented the importance of surgery and its scientific tasks in particular when it was necessary to integrate innovative methods such as molecular biology as a basis for surgical research objectives. He had the capability to derive necessary professional and infrastructural consequences from new knowledge and developments for patient care and scientific research very rapidly. Christian Herfarth was one of the outstanding academic surgeons of his time and a dedicated teacher. More than 30 surgical Chairmen and six Professors of Surgery in University Chair Positions originated from his school. He published more than 600 peer-reviewed papers, numerous books and was the editor of several national and international journals. Besides leading the Heidelberg Surgical Department, he was Dean of the Medical Faculty in Heidelberg, President of the German Surgical as we as Gastroenterological Society and of the German Cancer Society. He received honorary memberships from the American Surgical Association, the American College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Surgeons of England as well as from various other European surgical societies. For his lifetime achievements, Herfarth was honored by the German government with the Federal Cross of Merit First Class.

Professor Christian Herfarth was given emeritus status on September 30, 2001. After retiring, he constantly supported the University Hospital in consultative matters especially for structural and research policy issues.

Since student days, his fellow student and later spouse, Brigitte (born Rotzoll), supported his professional career and family life with their three sons, two of them following in their footsteps by becoming medical doctors.

Christian Herfarth passed away on September 02, 2014 and was buried in Heidelberg under great compassion of his family, friends, former students and companions; an honorary symposium in December 2014 recapped his outstanding lifetime achievement.

He will always be remembered as an outstanding surgeon and clinical manager as well as a visionary leader who educated and influenced a generation of surgeons not only in Germany who continue to live and cherish his legacy.