Cooper named president of thoracic surgery association

Joel D. Cooper, M.D., the Evarts A. Graham Professor of Surgery and chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, was recently elected the 85th president of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery.

Cooper, an internationally recognized pioneer in lung surgery, led the team that conducted the first successful human lung transplant in 1983. He also pioneered efforts to develop both lung transplant surgery and lung-volume reduction surgery.

Cooper (far right) reunites with a double-lung transplant patient.

Double-lung transplant recipients Ann Harrison (far left) and Doris Mathews reunite with their surgeons, Joel D. Cooper, M.D. (far right), and G. Alexander Patterson, M.D., the Joseph C. Bancroft Professor of Surgery. The women, who suffered from emphysema, received the world’s first double-lung transplants 17 years ago. – File photo

“Dr. Cooper has long been recognized as a leader in the field of thoracic surgery,” said Tirone E. David, M.D., secretary of the association. “His election to the presidency is an acknowledgement of his accomplishments and is the highest honor for a thoracic surgeon.”

The association is the nation’s oldest and foremost cardiothoracic surgery professional organization, with more than 1,000 members representing the leadership of academic and clinical thoracic surgery practice worldwide. Consisting primarily of academic physician-scientists, the association facilitates educational and research opportunities in heart and chest surgery.

Cooper is the fourth faculty member from the School of Medicine to be elected president of the association. The first three were Graham, M.D., former Bixby Professor of Surgery and head of the Department of Surgery (1927); Tom Burford, M.D., former head of cardiothoracic surgery (1970); and Thomas B. Ferguson, M.D., professor emeritus of surgery (1981).

“This is a fantastic honor and I’m very flattered to receive such recognition from my colleagues,” Cooper said. “It is humbling to review the names of the distinguished surgeons who have preceded me in this office. I hope to use the opportunity wisely.”

As president, Cooper plans to address the atmosphere of discouragement that currently pervades much of surgical practice. In particular, he wants to highlight the need to attract new physicians into surgery and cardiothoracic specialties.

“It’s a very difficult time for this specialty right now,” he explained. “Surgery is an extremely demanding field, and people are less willing to make the sacrifices required during training and, ultimately, surgical practice, particularly since there is increased interference from third-party payers and both financial remuneration and the esteem of the public continue to decline.

“As president, I want to acknowledge these problems, but focus on the incredible opportunities we have today and how really exciting and rewarding it is to be a surgeon.”

Cooper would like to work with Medicare and the National Institutes of Health to improve the current process by which medical and surgical procedures are approved and covered by insurance.

Cooper earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1960 and a medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1964. He joined the University in 1988 after serving on the faculty at the University of Toronto for 16 years.

His research has led to significant advances in the surgical treatment of lung disease. For example, he developed lung-volume reduction surgery, in which surgeons remove sections of lung damaged by emphysema.

Among other projects, Cooper is investigating the use of airway stents to treat emphysema.

In addition to authoring more than 350 scientific publications, Cooper has received several international honors and awards, including the Jacobson Innovation Award from the American College of Surgeons and an honorary doctorate from Bar Ilan University.

He also is an honorary member of the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and an honorary fellow of the Russian Academy of Science.