American Surgical Association Transactions

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1953 - 2018


David J. Sugarbaker, MD died after a battle with cancer on August 29, 2018 at the age of 65. Dr. Sugarbaker was born and raised in Jefferson City, Missouri, the 8th of 10 children. His dad, Everett Sugarbaker, was an oncologic surgeon and his mom, Geneva Lon Van Dyke Sugarbaker, a registered nurse. Young David spent some of his time while growing up helping his dad in the clinic and laboratory. He graduated from Wheaton College (IL) in 1975 and received his MD from Cornell University Medical College in 1979. Dr. Sugarbaker then completed his general surgical residency at The Brigham and Women’s Hospital under the leadership of Dr. J. A. Mannick, where he also served as the Chief Resident in 1985. During his surgical residency, Dr. Sugarbaker worked as a research fellow in gastroenterology in the Laboratory of Dr. Raj Goyal at the Charles A. Dana Research Institute and the Harvard Thorndyke Laboratory, Beth Israel Hospital & Harvard Medical School. Following his surgical training, he completed a two-year residency in Thoracic Surgery at The University of Toronto and Mount Sinai hospitals in Toronto Canada under the leadership of Dr. F. G. Pearson. He was appointed the Chief of the newly minted division of Thoracic Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 1988, a position he held until 2014. During his time at the Brigham, he was rapidly promoted to the Richard E. Wilson Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School, a position he held until moving to Houston, Texas as the founding Chief and Director of the Division of General Thoracic Surgery, and the Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine. In 2014, he also served as the President of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery and later as the President of the AATS foundation.

Dr. Sugarbaker made numerous important contributions to academic general thoracic surgery. He was an early innovator, proponent and practitioner of minimally invasive thoracic surgery (VATS), a core member of the NETT emphysema trial, as well as, Chair of the Surgery committee of the NCI cooperative cancer group CALGB (1992-2004) where he was instrumental in supporting and pushing forward numerous pivotal clinical trials and careers. An outstanding technical surgeon, he also developed and popularized the "three holes esophagectomy", and supported multimodality therapies for esophageal and lung cancers.

Academically and clinically he was one of the foremost mesothelioma surgeons in the world. He developed studied and taught the practice of extra-pleural pneumonectomy and later pleurectomy. He proposed a staging system for mesothelioma and published extensively on staging, surgical technique, post-operative management and multi-modality treatments. He also introduced the concept of intra-pleural, intra-operative chemotherapy for this cancer. In addition, pivotal genomic studies in mesothelioma were made possible through the use of a frozen tissue tumor bank Dr. Sugarbaker had the foresight to start in 1993. Dr. Sugarbaker’s passion was focused on mentoring and training students, residents and faculty. He was responsible for starting the first thoracic surgery focused residency program and trained 31 dedicated residents and 59 fellows in thoracic surgery and hundreds of residents in general surgery and cardiac surgery. Of the 90 trainees, 15 were women and represent about 5% of women who are thoracic surgeons in the US now. Of all his trainees, at least 22 have since served or are serving as division or department chiefs.

David Sugarbaker was a loving husband and father to six children. This, he always said was the most important of his manifold activities. He made an enormous impact on his students, colleagues and patients as well as on the field of thoracic surgery. His death has left a giant void and he will be forever missed.