Honoring F. Griffith Pearson

F. Griffith Pearson, MD

F. Griffith Pearson, MD, served as the 79th president of The American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) in 1989-90. Dr. Pearson attended the University of Toronto High School and subsequently the University of Toronto Medical School, finishing as a silver medalist in the class of 1949. Following his internship at the Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Pearson went into general practice working with two local general surgeons, whom he remembers as role models for "patient care and caring." After one year Dr. Pearson returned to the University of Toronto for a year of research under Dr. Wilfred G. Bigelow, the 55th President of the AATS, and then re-entered general practice for the next three years.

In 1955, Dr. Pearson once again returned to the University of Toronto to complete a three years residency in general surgery. He then determined he would focus on general thoracic surgery and studied in England with Mr. Ronald Belsey at the Frenchay Hospital in Bristol in 1959 and 1960, and returned to a faculty position at Toronto General Hospital. It was Mr Belsey who had the greatest influence on Pearson’s thoracic practice. To this day, Pearson quotes Belsey, "the battlefields of surgery are littered with the remains of new operations, which foundered and perished in the follow-up clinic." Pearson was known for his careful follow-up of patients, even decades after their initial surgery.

In 1960, Dr. Pearson travelled to Copenhagen to witness the early use of prolonged mechanical ventilation for respiratory failure during a polio epidemic, and laryngeal and tracheal injuries resulting from endotracheal tubes and tracheostomy tubes. These experiences stimulated him to champion the first intensive care unit in Canada, the so-called "respiratory failure unit," and led to his research and clinical interest in tracheal resection and reconstruction.

In 1968 under his leadership, a separate division of thoracic surgery was established at the University of Toronto. Pearson introduced mediastinoscopy to North America in the early 1960s and demonstrated the importance of mediastinal staging for lung cancer, leading to a more rational approach to the diagnosis, staging, and treatment of the disease.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Pearson continued to perform experimental studies of the trachea and its blood supply, including an operation that has come to be known as the Pearson Operation. Dr. Pearson and Dr Hermes Grillo, are the fathers of modern tracheal surgery, having determined the upper limits of resection and reconstruction, prosthetic replacement, and the initial use of stents.

In 1977, along with his student Bob Ginsberg, Dr. Pearson helped establish the multicenter National Institutes of Health Lung Cancer Study Group.

Dr. Pearson retired from active practice in 1999, but was not done. He has continued to be a pioneer as a "surgeon in residence" in both Boston and Pittsburgh and as a keen observer, learner, and educator. Most would say his greatest contribution to thoracic surgery during the past 50 years has been the influence he has had on generations of young surgeons who have become leaders in thoracic surgery not only in North America but throughout the world. 

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