Vital Times 2021 - 98

HISTORY OF ANESTHESIA
A Tribute to
John W. Severinghaus, MD
Philip Bickler, PhD, MD
ohn W. Severinghaus, MD, is the Leonardo
da Vinci of anesthesiology. More than
any scientist before him, he brought scientific
rigor to understanding how anesthesia affects
breathing, gas exchange, and acid-base
balance. His curiosity, creativity, and elegance
of thought were like that of da Vinci. He
discovered centers in the brain where breathing
is controlled, elucidated how humans adapt
their breathing to high altitude, and developed
technology to measure these alterations.
His gift to medicine of acid-base analysis
technology probably deserved a Nobel Prize.
J
In reflecting on why John was so influential,
several things stand out. First and foremost,
he had an absolutely insatiable curiosity. His
DNA demanded a sense of wonder and a drive
to solve problems based on his experiences and
insights. In addition, John trained and inspired
several generations of physician-scientists
who have carried on his tradition of rigorous
science, curiosity about how the universe
works, and an unequaled spirit of generosity
and hope.
Here are some of my many fond recollections
of working with John:
He always seemed to be traveling, which for
a mere mortal might have been exhausting.
For John, it was invigorating. He would appear
in his office even after international travel
around 6:30 a.m. or earlier, full of new ideas
generated at some conference. He often had
ideas about the next experiments to conduct
in the lab or during a trip to White Mountain
Research Station.
John, it seemed, could write a full-length
research paper in one sitting, and it would be
perfect with completed figures and citations.
98 | CSA Vital Times

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