American Surgical Association Transactions

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1926 – 2015


There are two books in my bookcase by Lester Sauvage: “You Can Beat Heart Disease” and “The Open Heart: Stories of Hope, Healing and Happiness”. Both were signed by Dr. Sauvage when he sent them to the University wanting make sure our residents in training had access to them. Dr. Sauvage was near the end of his clinical career when I arrived in Seattle in 1989 but he was bigger than life in the surgical community and had a remarkable, enduring legacy. I remember vividly my first Christmas mass at St. James Cathedral in downtown Seattle. It was 10 minutes into the mass when this tall stately surgeon walked down the main aisle from the back to the front pew dressed in his full scrubs, long white coat, white shoes, surgical cap, and a mask hanging around his neck. I said to my wife...that’s Dr. Sauvage!

Lester Rosaire Sauvage was born in Washington state and spent his entire life in the Pacific Northwest except when he attended medical school in St. Louis, did a stint at Walter Reed Army Medical Center during the Korean War, and completed a post residency fellowship in pediatric surgery with Robert Gross at Boston Childrens. His residency in general and vascular surgery were completed at the University of Washington. His early goals were first to become a professional baseball player, then a priest, until he finally decided on medicine and then surgery. There might be a number of ways to describe Dr. Savage but each is remarkable. First he was a workaholic starting his day at 6:30 AM and usually ending at 2:00 AM the next morning, at least 6 days per week. He was a respected clinical surgeon, doing over 10,000 operations in his career in both adult cardiac surgery at Providence Medical Center and congenital heart surgery at Seattle Children’s Medical Center. He was a prolific author with over 250 peer reviewed articles, one medical text and four lay books about heart disease. He was a creative innovator in the early days of coronary artery bypass grafting and open vascular surgery. His “Savage dacron patch” is still commercially available today for vascular reconstructions. He was a religious man being a devout Catholic and starting almost every day in the chapel. He was a family man supported by a loyal and loving wife of 58 years Mary Ann, raising 8 children and inspiring 31 grandchildren at last count. He was an inspirational researcher and educator creating the Hope Heart Institute in Seattle in 1959 supported by community and philanthropic support. The Institute remains viable today as lasting tribute to this man’s commitment and vision.

Dr. Lester Sauvage was one of those pioneers in cardiothoracic surgery who had “grit”. He was passionate, persistent, creative and tireless. He made a difference in the lives of everyone he encountered.