Warner receives professorship named for Washington University’s first female surgeon

Brad W. Warner, M.D., a pediatric surgeon whose research and surgical career have focused on improving the lives of children with congenital bowel problems, has been named the Jessie L. Ternberg, M.D., Ph.D., Distinguished Professor in Pediatric Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Brad Warner

Ternberg is professor emerita of surgery and of surgery in pediatrics at the School of Medicine. Her passion, persistence and independence led her to become a woman of many firsts. A nationally recognized pediatric surgeon, she was the first woman surgical resident and first woman chief resident in surgery at Barnes Hospital, the first female surgeon on the School of Medicine’s full-time faculty and the first woman elected to head the school’s faculty council.

Warner, a professor of surgery and of pediatrics at the School of Medicine and pediatric surgeon-in-chief at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, was installed June 18, 2009, by Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton and Larry J. Shapiro, M.D., executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“During her nearly 40-year career, Jessie Ternberg was an extraordinary pioneer in pediatric surgery, showing great care and dedication to her many young patients,” Wrighton said. “Dr. Warner’s dedication to pediatric surgery, patient care and research makes him an excellent choice to carry on the legacy of Dr. Ternberg through this professorship.”

“As Ternberg did during her tenure at the School of Medicine, Warner searches for solutions to short bowel syndrome, a painful disorder that can cause malnutrition,” Shapiro said. “We are pleased that Dr. Warner will continue with this outstanding work. Dr. Ternberg has trained generations of pediatric surgeons and pediatricians (including me), and it is gratifying to see her enduring contribution to the field recognized in this way.”

More than 50 of Ternberg’s friends and admirers, including Walter F. Ballinger, M.D., and Mary Randolph Ballinger; William H. Danforth, M.D.; Thomas E. and Carolyn Gallagher; Richard Karl, M.D., and Kathy Karl; Edward S. Lewis, M.D.; RB and Peggy Lewis; the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation; St. Louis Children’s Hospital; and Virginia Weldon, M.D., funded the professorship.

Ternberg earned a bachelor’s degree from Grinnell College in 1946 and a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Texas in 1950. In 1949, she and Robert Eakin, Ph.D., reported their discovery of the mechanism by which vitamin B-12 is absorbed in the intestine.

In 1953, Ternberg earned a medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine. She completed an internship in internal medicine at Boston City Hospital, then returned to St. Louis to begin a surgical residency at Barnes Hospital. Following residency training, Ternberg joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1959 as an instructor of surgery. She rose through the ranks to become professor of surgery.

With the encouragement of Walter F. Ballinger, M.D., then chairman of the Department of Surgery, she organized the Division of Pediatric Surgery in the Department of Surgery, and in 1975 was acknowledged also as professor of surgery in pediatrics.

During this time, Ternberg not only participated in patient care but also continued her research interests. She pioneered with her study of free radicals using electron spin resonance and showed their presence in viable tissues and demonstrated that differences existed between normal and diseased tissues. Other research involved development and study of the characteristics and use of jejunal neomucosa in the treatment of patients with “short gut syndrome” and the study of cytoprotective agents in bowel infarction.

A St. Louis native, Warner joined the School of Medicine faculty and St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 2007 after 25 years at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He is widely regarded for his clinical expertise in pediatric cancer surgery and surgical procedures for short bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, and he has trained more than 30 postdoctoral fellows.

“Dr. Warner has been a transformative agent at Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis Children’s Hospital,” says Timothy J. Eberlein, M.D., Bixby Professor and chairman of the Department of Surgery, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor and director of the Siteman Cancer Center and surgeon-in-chief at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “His wonderful leadership and vision have made a huge difference in the pediatric surgical services at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. He is a superb role model and educator and has been able to build a superb team in a very short period of time. In sum, he has helped our institutions realize their goals of providing the very best health care to children in our region.”

Warner is board certified in general surgery and pediatric surgery with a special interest in pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition. He has been president of the Society of University Surgeons, is the chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ surgical section and holds multiple leadership positions within the American College of Surgeons, the American Pediatric Surgical Association and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract.

Warner’s research focuses on understanding how the body adapts when a large part of the intestine is surgically removed or lost to injury, inflammation or lack of blood supply. In many cases, the part of the intestine that remains senses this loss and tries to compensate by growing back. Warner is working to identify key genes involved in this process, with the goal of enhancing intestinal growth. This would allow patients to live a more normal life and avoid the need for intravenous nutrition, which can lead to other complications.

He also specializes in caring for babies born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia, which affects one in every 2,000 babies born in the United States.

Warner earned a medical degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine. He completed a surgical residency at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and a fellowship in pediatric surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Ternberg, the author of more than 100 scientific papers and 10 book chapters, also wrote “A Handbook for Pediatric Surgery,” which became the “bible” of pediatric surgery at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and made her name familiar to a generation of residents.

Her numerous awards and honors include membership in Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society, Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Washington University Alumni-Faculty Award, the International Women’s Year Award for Health Care, the Horatio Alger Association, Distinguished Member Award of the Association of Woman Surgeons, Fellow of the Academy of Science of St. Louis and this organization’s Trustees’ Award, and was the first recipient of the University’s Aphrodite Jannopoulo Hofsommer Award. In 2002, Ternberg served as honorary grand marshal for commencement at Washington University. She was awarded an honorary doctor of science at the 2008 Washington University commencement.

In 1998, former pediatric surgical residents and colleagues established the Jessie L. Ternberg Award, given annually to a female member of the graduating class who best exemplifies Ternberg’s “indomitable spirit of determination, perseverance and dedication to her patients.”

Now retired, Ternberg remains involved with research in surgery and pediatrics and enjoys world travel.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked third in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.