Former SCCM President Remembered as Pioneer in Thoracic Surgery

2013 - 3 June - 42nd Critical Care Congress Review
Louis R.M. Del Guercio, MD, a renowned thoracic surgeon, passed away on March 8, 2013, from complications of a brain tumor, at the age of 84.

Louis R.M. Del Guercio, MD, a renowned thoracic surgeon, passed away on March 8, 2013, from complications of a brain tumor, at the age of 84. A native of Larchmont, New York, Dr. Del Guercio graduated cum laude from Fordham College in 1948. He attended Yale School of Medicine and received his postgraduate training in surgery at Columbia Presbyterian Medial Center, Saint Vincent’s Medical Center and Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital.

Dr. Del Guercio progressed from instructor of surgery to professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine from 1960 to 1971. During his time, he and his colleagues became the first to describe what textbooks now routinely refer to as hyperdynamic septic shock – shock caused by infection – where the heart pumps a higher than normal volume of blood. Dr. Del Guercio became interested in physiologic monitoring, measuring the output from the heart during cardiac arrest and comparing open versus closed chest heart massage. Although closed massage would eventually eclipse open massage, Dr. Del Guercio remained an advocate for open because it doubled the heart’s output. He was also instrumental in the development of the Automated Physiologic Profile, a computerized graphic display of cardiopulmonary variables of physiologic significance in critically ill patients.

Dr. Del Guercio went on to serve as Chief of Surgery at the Saint Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey until 1976, when he was appointed Chairman of Surgery at New York Medical College and Chief of Surgery at Westchester Medical Center, where he served for 26 years until his retirement. As chairman, he recruited expert faculty and residents and fostered their academic, clinical and personal growth.

“He was unselfish and generous,” said John A. Savino, MD, a longtime friend and colleague at New York Medical College. “He demonstrated by example what he considered appropriate professional demeanor for his residents and staff.”

For 25 years, Dr. Del Guercio initiated daily morning hospital rounds with his residents where he stressed the importance of communication with patient families.

“The fellows and the residents were like his children,” recalls Dr. Del Guercio’s friend and former trainee Thomas M. Scalea, MD, FACS. “He was incredibly fair and always gave people a second chance. I really try to emulate him in that and so many other ways.”

Among Dr. Del Guercio’s talents was medical illustrating. After every complex procedure he performed, he would illustrate in a single sketch his impression of its pertinent aspects. He then gave copies to the scrub nurse, resident and referring physician.

Dr. Del Guercio was one of two surgeons who helped establish the Society of Critical Care Medicine, serving as its sixth president from 1976 to 1977. He established one of the first surgical critical care training programs and was firm in his belief that surgeons must lead in critical care. Furthermore, he was a consummate technical thoracic surgeon who operated until the day he retired,  believing surgeons lost credibility when they stopped operating. His research interests included bedside hemodynamic monitoring, septic shock, and technological advances to improve bedside assessment.

“Lou was an individual committed to enhancing the lives of others,” Savino said.

Over his long career, Dr. Del Guercio authored three textbooks and more than 320 surgical articles. He volunteered for the first Gulf War, was commissioned a full Colonel, and put in charge of the 320th Evacuation Hospital. He was awarded the U.S. Army Commendation
Medal in 1991. Most recently he served on the board of the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, the Executive Committee of the Yale Medical Alumni Association and the Fordham Science Council.

During his retirement, Dr. Del Guercio walked a 500-mile pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostella, Spain, with his sons in honor of one his grandsons who was physically challenged. Three years later, his grandson regained his ability to walk. He was an avid fisherman, sailor, painter, and tennis player, as well as an artist, inventor, public servant, mentor and entrepreneur.

“So much of modern surgical critical care is based on principles that we learned from the work of the early pioneers like Dr. Del Guercio,” concluded Scalea.

Dr. Del Guercio is survived by Paula, his wife of 56 years; his children, Louis (Carolyn), Francesca (Robert) Monro, Paul (Marianne), Catherine (Luc) Gregoire, Maria (Greg) Stanton, Michelle (Mark) Ferri, Christopher (Berit) and Anthony (Magan); 15 grandchildren; and his sister Eligia Dundee and her children.