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Remembering Bob Replogle, 1931-2016

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Robert L. Replogle, MD, the driving force behind the creation of CTSNet, died Monday, May 9, at the University of Chicago Medical Center surrounded by his loving family. He was a notable figure in cardiothoracic surgery worldwide, and will be remembered as a clinical surgeon, researcher, educator, and leader.

Bob grew up in a farming community in rural Iowa, graduating with his high school class of 45 students. He matriculated to Cornell College in Mount Vernon in 1949, where he studied biology, played football, and was part of the nationally ranked wrestling squad. His studies were interrupted by the Korean conflict, and he served in the Navy from 1951-1954. During his service he worked the Naval Research Institute in Bethesda, where he first met one of the most influential surgeons in his life, Ralph Alley, and became interested in medical sciences. After being honorably discharged, he nearly completed his studies at Cornell College but never earned a degree, having already been accepted to Harvard Medical School.

During his first year in medical school, Bob was introduced to his future wife, Carol, who was a college freshman. After their second date she returned to her dorm room and told her roommate, “That’s the man I’m going to marry.” They fulfilled this vision after his second year in medical school. Both focused on their education during the ensuing few years, Bob on his surgical career, Carol on her PhD in English literature. After settling down, they had three children: Bob, Jennifer, and Edith.

Upon arriving at medical school, at the urging of Ralph Alley, Bob introduced himself to Robert E. Gross, a pioneering pediatric surgeon who performed the first PDA ligation. Bob eventually served as Gross’ last trainee. Gross was a dedicated mentor who welcomed Bob and Carol into his family, and served as a constant inspiration to Bob during his career.

Bob’s first internship was spent on the surgical services at the University of Minnesota, where he trained under Owen Wangensteen and C. Walton Lillihei, and was initially exposed to heart surgery. He returned to Harvard to serve an internship at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and then did residencies at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital. Bob trained alongside such notables as David Skinner and Hal Urschel. During this time he invented a double lumen drainage catheter for management of esophageal atresia, which has come to be known as the “Replogle Tube” and continues to be used for these challenging infants. Under Gross’ tutelage, he emerged as a general and cardiothoracic pediatric surgeon, and took an initial faculty position at Boston Children’s Hospital.

In 1967 Bob became a pediatric surgeon at the University of Chicago, joining Mark Ravitch and Mark Rowe on the faculty. He headed the congenital heart surgery program and eventually became Division Chief. Desiring a more focused career in cardiac surgery, he did additional training in adult cardiac surgery alongside Fred Loop at the Cleveland Clinic, learning from the ground up. Bob recalled telling the Cleveland Clinic staff, “Look, I'm not coming as visiting professor. I'm coming here as a first year resident." He started by taking veins. “They were great to me. Loop was a resident, and others, those guys, they were unbelievable. And because they had so much work to do, I would scrub in and they'd help me do [the cases].” Versed in the most modern aspects of adult cardiac surgery, he spent his career thereafter performing adult and pediatric open heart operations. After his time at the University of Chicago, Bob headed Chicago-based heart surgery programs at Michael Reese Hospital, Ingalls Memorial Hospital, and Columbus Hospital.

In addition to his renowned clinical expertise and surgical skill, Bob was an educator and clinical investigator of the first order. He studied renal and cardiovascular physiology as a medical student, and established a microcirculation research laboratory shortly after his arrival in Chicago. He mentored numerous surgeons into outstanding academic careers and published over 100 scientific papers and book chapters.

Although he contributed immeasurably to clinical medicine and education, his greatest accomplishments were related to his leadership abilities. An early example relates to his brother Ralph, who suffered from cerebral palsy and often required special care that was difficult to obtain through state institutions. It happened that this condition affected members of several other families in his farming community in Iowa. Bob joined with these other townspeople to found in the early 1960s what eventually became Opportunity Village, which provides a home for adults with disabilities. It currently supports over 600 people from more than 30 communities.

Bob’s leadership skills were most evident in his work with The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. He was present at the first meeting of the STS, and rose through the organization to become president in 1996. By virtue of his personality, foresight, and intelligence, he was principally involved in several visionary changes that have had a lasting impact on the STS and cardiothoracic surgery worldwide. These include establishment of the STS Education and Research Foundation (now the Thoracic Surgery Foundation), the STS National Database, the STS-PAC, and CTSNet. Later in his career he was a strong advocate for standardizing global training and certification in cardiothoracic surgery, an effort that is now reaching fruition in Europe.

Bob thought outside of the box and made interesting connections among various disciplines, which enabled him to champion new ideas and many new technologies. Many of his friends recognized his early interest in computers, particularly after the establishment of the Internet. He had his own website long before most of his colleagues knew what the Internet was. His holiday greetings were legendary examples of photomontages and recountings of the past year’s family events. A week before his death he was busy in his hospital room troubleshooting Carol’s iPhone, which had for some reason gone on the blink. After getting some advice from a help desk technician, he dismissed the technician saying, “OK, I’ve got it from here. I’ll just reboot and then update from the cloud.”

His personal life was even more interesting than his professional life. Always on the lookout for new adventures and hobbies, he focused his attention in turn on fast cars, scuba diving, underwater photography, and digital photography. He was an avid traveler who had numerous close friends throughout the world. He became a wine connoisseur and collector later in life, and constructed an elaborate wine tasting room and underground wine cellar. He loved to entertain friends and colleagues over his favorite wine selections. Most notably, he was devoted to his family, and loved nothing more than having them at home or along on an exciting travel adventure.

To those who knew him, Bob was a force of nature. His many professional contributions have indelibly changed the nature of our specialty. His energy, enthusiasm, sharp wit, and fierce intelligence always made for fun company and interesting and lively conversations. He will be remembered as a generous and true friend.


I had the pleasure of being Bob's classmate at the TSFRE Executive Course in Health Policy at Harvard's JFK School of Government. Also in our class was Hal Urschel, who sat next to Bob. For 10 days, I experienced his wit, humor, insight, warmth and intelligence during countless hours of lectures, projects and dinners. It was something I won't forget.
A great mentor in every sense of the way. Worked from top down and bottom up. His interest and help with global CT surgery humanitarian and voluntary efforts helped create increased awareness and participation. His legacy includes the CTSnet. He will be admired for what he did, respected for what he said, and remembered for what he wrote.
This is sad news. I was an impressionable 3rd year medical student at the University of Chicago when I met Dr. Replogle. He was one of the inspiring figures in cardiac surgery that guided me in the direction of our specialty.

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