GEORGE CHARLES KAISER, M.D.
1928 - 2020
"If you love what you do, you never have to work for a living!" George Charles Kaiser was born in the Bronx on July 28th, 1928 but early in life his family moved to Cranford, New Jersey where he spent his childhood years. He attended Lehigh University majoring in biology and graduated with honors after only three years. Following graduation Dr. Kaiser was accepted into the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where he earned selection to the Alpha Omega Alpha honor society and graduated in 1953. He began his surgical internship at Hopkins under Dr. Alfred Blalock and there George met and fell in love with Jane Haggart, a student at the School of Nursing. Apparently, Dr. Blalock discouraged marriage during residency lest it "distract" a resident from his professional goals. After weighing his professional goals and the personal aspirations, George decided that, in this instance, Dr. Blalock was in error and so Jane and George were secretly married during his internship on November 21st 1953. George and Jane went on to have three children and eight grandchildren.
After internship Dr. Kaiser undertook investigation in the NIH lab of Dr. Andrew "Glen" Morrow where he crossed paths with another Morrow trainee, Leo Radigan MD, a thoracic surgeon from Indiana University and who became quite impressed with the young resident. It was at this time that George was "poached", as he put it, from the Hopkins program and transferred to IU to complete both his general and his thoracic surgery residencies under another Hopkins alumnus, Dr Harris B. Shumacker. Following completion of his thoracic training, George joined the faculty at IU as an instructor and quickly ascended to the rank of assistant professor. Shortly thereafter he was recruited by C. Rollins Hanlon, then chair of surgery at St Louis University (SLU), to help develop their nascent cardiothoracic division.
Dr. Kaiser began his 35 year career at SLU in 1963 as an assistant professor but within 7 years had risen to the rank of full professor, and five years thereafter, was appointed chief of the division, a post he held for 22 years. Together with Drs. Hanlon, Vallee Willman and Hendrick Barner, Dr. Kaiser helped build a cardiothoracic program recognized nationally and internationally as a center of excellence. At the forefront in the evolution of heart surgery, George was the first surgeon in St Louis to implant a cardiac pacemaker (1965), the first to perform a coronary artery bypass (1969) and, in 1971, the first to perform a heart transplant in the Midwest. During his SLU career he authored over 250 articles, abstracts and book chapters and was the principal investigator for the Coronary Artery Surgery Study (CASS), the most ambitious multi-institutional randomized surgical trial of its era. That same academic leadership was evident within the department as well. George did everything possible to promote research and foster scholarly activities amongst his colleagues, residents and students.
George's administrative skills and inspirational personality became well known and he was drafted into leadership roles by the local, regional and national societies in which he participated. Dr. Kaiser was elected to serve first as secretary and then president for the Missouri Heart Association (1976, 1980), the St. Louis Surgical Society (1975, 1982), the St Louis Thoracic Surgical Society (1976, 1977) and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (1984,1996). The only exception to this was the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association which gave him a pass at the secretary level and elected him as president in 1984.
George was every bit as remarkable a human being as he was a surgeon. He loved music and occasionally would whistle showtunes or break out in song after coming off pump; and, as a former barber shop quartet participant, he would unashamedly begin harmonizing whenever the opportunity arose. George was an avid tennis player, golfer and, needless to say, was highly competitive at whatever he was doing. His kids love to tell the story of George watching his grandchildren dragged behind a motorboat on an inner tube and insisting "I can do that". And then he did... on his 80th birthday! His favorite activities included cooking (especially Czech recipes from his childhood), carving the Thanksgiving turkey ("this is a surgeon's job") and story time for his children and grandchildren. The family vacations included trips to the Connecticut lake house, backpacking the New England woods and beach vacations at Sea Island. As best I can tell, nobody was a more beloved parent or grandfather than George Kaiser. On July 1, 2020, George passed away in his sleep at the age of 91.
KEITH S. NAUNHEIM, M.D.