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1931 – 2016

ROBERT L. REPLOGLE, M.D., 1931 – 2016

Dr. Robert Replogle, an internationally recognized congenital and adult heart surgeon, died May 9, 2016, surrounded by his loved ones. Known to his family as Bob and to his friends as Rep, his career spanned the period from the crude beginnings of open heart surgery to its modern era, serving as a clinician, scientist, educator, and thought leader throughout.

Bob was born September 30, 1931, in Ottumwa, Iowa, a rural farming community. At the age of 7 he and his family moved to Clear Lake, Iowa, where he spent his formative years. His father was a railroad engineer, and Bob obtained some of his inventive prowess from that exposure. His mother was a classics teacher in the local high school, from whom Bob gained an appreciation of history and literature.

The fact that his older brother suffered from cerebral palsy had a lasting effect on Bob’s lifelong attitudes towards the physically and mentally challenged. Early in his career, Bob and a group of Clear Lake friends founded Opportunity Village in order to provide for some of the unmet needs of local residents with disabilities. This organization now serves more than 600 people in the Clear Lake area.

Having excelled scholastically and athletically in high school, Bob attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, with the intent of becoming a high school teacher and football coach. Without having any prior experience, Bob joined the Cornell College wrestling team as a substitute, and learned quickly from the members of this nationally ranked group.

Feeling a sense of adventure and wishing to fulfil their civic duties, Bob and several other classmates interrupted their college studies to join the Navy 1951-1954 during the Korean conflict. Being a biology major in college, Bob was assigned to the Naval Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, which exposed him to unexpected opportunities that shaped his future career. During this time he also wrestled for the Navy squad, and developed sufficient skill to be invited to the Olympic tryouts while in the service.

At the Research Institute Bob was teamed with several experienced surgeons who were studying aortic homografts, including Dr. Ralph Alley, who was to become a lifelong friend and mentor. Bob became a first rate surgical assistant and then an independent experimental surgeon, developing technical skills that served him well in his subsequent career. After his service, Bob returned to college, but heeded the advice of Alley to consider a career in medicine. He planned to attend medical school in Iowa, but Alley arranged for an interview at Harvard Medical School. Bob was quickly accepted, and matriculated without having received a formal degree from Cornell College.

During the summer prior to beginning medical school, Bob worked in the Alley’s research laboratory in Albany, NY. Alley wished to begin an open heart surgery program, and assigned Bob to learn about and build a heart-lung machine. Bob traveled to the University of Minnesota to learn what was known about the bubble oxygenator and pumps, and soon had a working machine for experimental use in Albany. This experience served him well as he helped train the first cadre of perfusionists early in his clinical career.

Upon arriving in Boston to begin medical school, Alley provided an introduction for Bob to Dr. Robert Gross, a pioneering pediatric and congenital heart surgeon who was known for having performed the first patent ductus ligation and one of the first coarctation repairs. Gross became a lifelong friend and mentor who considered Bob to be the son he never had. While in school Bob worked in Gross' lab studying the effects of cardiopulmonary bypass on renal function and also assisted in preparing the equipment for the next day’s open heart operations. During this time Bob met and subsequently married his wife, Carol.

Expecting to begin his internship in Boston, Bob was disappointed to learn that he hadn't been chosen as the surgical intern for that year, and instead went to the University of Minnesota to work under Dr. Owen Wangensteen. Bob describes this fortuitous event as leading to one of the most exciting and eye opening periods of his life, as he observed the development of open heart surgery first hand. He then returned to Boston to train at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, the Children’s Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital. During this time he invented a sump tube for drainage in patients with esophageal atresia; the Replogle tube is still in use today for this purpose. He was the last trainee of Dr. Gross, and emerged as a highly qualified pediatric and congenital heart surgeon.

Bob’s first position was as a pediatric general and cardiac surgeon at the University of Chicago, where he joined Mark Rowe and Mark Ravitch. He quickly rose to become the Chief of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery, and eventually headed the Section of Cardiac Surgery. As his clinical work increasingly focused on cardiac surgery, Bob became aware of the need to train in adult cardiac surgery and join the burgeoning practice of coronary bypass surgery. He took a short sabbatical to train in coronary and valve surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, and soon expanded the scope of his practice to include adult cardiac surgery.

While at the University of Chicago Bob was a powerful mentor to aspiring young trainees. He established a laboratory studying microcirculation that sparked the investigative careers of cardiothoracic, plastic and reconstructive, pediatric, general, and vascular surgeons. Many of his mentees have gone on to leadership positions in surgery nationally and internationally.

Early in his career Bob became involved in the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and this was the primary focus of his efforts regarding policy, standards, education, and communication. He served on no fewer than 18 STS committees, and served as the STS President 1996-1997. During his service he was instrumental in establishing what is now the STS Education Foundation and the STS Political Action Committee. Bob was an early enthusiast of digital technology and internet communication, and inspired the founding of, a global internet partnership of cardiothoracic surgeons that has over 40,000 members.

Bob continued to practice cardiac surgery until 1999, developing and heading programs at two community hospitals in the Chicago area. After retirement from clinical surgery he remained active in professional societies, advocating for international training standards and for multinational certification programs that would facilitate better distribution of the surgical workforce.

Outside of work, Bob's first passion was his family. He often joked that at family dinners he was the fifth smartest person in the room, the others being his English literature professor spouse, a neurosurgeon/interventional neuroradiologist son, his psychiatrist/author daughter, and his youngest daughter, a history professor/author. Their family life was intimate yet filled with fabulous trips and encounters with an international group of friends and colleagues from all walks of life.

Additional passions included, in historical order, fast cars, photography, scuba diving, digital photography, and wine. Bob built and stocked an award-winning wine tasting room with an underground wine cellar, which was the centerpiece of his last and finest hobby and the focus of his social gatherings. As with everything he did in life, he immersed himself in the field, getting to know wine producers and fellow oenophiles throughout the world.

Bob had a "folksy" demeanor that belied his fierce intelligence, amazing memory, and strong leadership ability. He was a loyal and generous friend who stayed true to his rural roots. He brought great energy and conviction to everything that he touched, and left indelible marks on his profession.