Remembering Dr. Civetta, Former SCCM President and Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

2016 - 3 June- 45th Critical Care Congress Highlights
This article celebrates the life of Joseph Michael Civetta, MD, FCCM.


Joseph Michael Civetta, MD, FCCM, passed away on March 30, 2016, in his home in the South Florida Keys at age 77.

Dr. Civetta was born in Mount Vernon, New York, USA, the only son of his parents Rose Mildred Pirone and Michael Joseph Civetta. He graduated magna cum laude in 1959 from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, and summa cum laude in 1963 from Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He completed an internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, followed by two years of military service as a major in the U.S. Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. He returned to Massachusetts General from 1970 to 1972 as director of its surgical intensive care unit. While at Massachusetts General, he and Joseph C. Gabel, MD, described modern cardiovascular physiology.

Dr. Civetta then began a long and illustrious career at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center in Miami, Florida, USA, where he became a professor of surgery, anesthesiology, pathology and medicine. He served as director of the surgical intensive care unit from 1972 to 1997.

Dr. Civetta left Miami to become chairman of surgery at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut, USA, and director of surgery at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. He also assumed the role of director of the General Surgery Residency Program, and brought the University of Connecticut Residency Program to a new level. In 2002, he retired from these posts, but remained as vice-chairman of the Department of Surgery at the University of Connecticut Health Center until 2012.

Dr. Civetta’s critical care fellowship produced five presidents of the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma and three presidents of the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), including its 2005–2006 president, Peter B. Angood, MD, MCCM.

“As a fellow, one was awed by [Dr. Civetta’s] commitments to patient care and insights into abnormal physiology. As a peer, one remained impressed with his energy and inquisitive nature to continually learn more,” recalled Dr. Angood. During his term as SCCM president, Dr. Angood was honored to award Dr. Civetta with the SCCM Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. Civetta served as president of SCCM from 1980 to 1981. His presidential address emphasized the importance of resource allocation and careful evaluation of the use of technology in the intensive care unit.

Dr. Civetta was a prolific researcher and writer as well as an innovative thinker. He is considered one of the founding fathers of surgical critical care. His textbook Manual of Critical Care, now in its fourth edition, has been the essential reference and guidebook to practitioners and fellows for more than three decades.

Always striving to improve the quality of care for the critically ill and teaching the compassion and care necessary to be an excellent caregiver, Dr. Civetta leaves a legacy of the numerous fellows whom he trained and who now direct major critical care departments throughout the country.

“[Dr.] Civetta was a giant of critical care, surgery, medicine and palliative care,” recalls Neil S. Yeston, MD, FACS, FACCP, friend and early fellow of Dr. Civetta. “His contributions ran the spectrum from early translational cardiorespiratory physiology to the modern concepts of the dignity of death and dying.”

Rocco Orlando III, MD, FACS, former fellow of Dr. Civetta, recalls him as a “pioneer in end-of-life care, … [teaching] the importance of systems of care and protocols long before they were in vogue.”

Dr. Civetta retired with his wife Judy to the Florida Keys. He loved deep-sea fishing, reading, target shooting, cooking, eating, and creating new recipes for which his family and friends dubbed him “Sir Mix-a-Lot.” He relished quality time with his children and grandchildren and followed his father’s example in his enjoyment of telling jokes and making puns. Always ready to lend an ear and share life experiences, his critical thinking and perspective will be missed by family and colleagues alike.

Dr. Civetta is survived by his wife Judy, his five children, Nancy, Betsy, Peter, Jenny and Katy, 14 grandchildren, and his beloved mini-poodle, Ozzie. Dr. Civetta is also survived by his brother-in-law James Hudson (wife Patricia) and niece Jennifer and her children.

Orlando C. Kirton, MD, FACS, MCCM, FCCP, MBA, friend and colleague of Dr. Civetta contributed to this article.