Saving Lifetimes

Celebrating APSA’s 50th Anniversary

Saving Lifetimes:
Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the American Pediatric Surgical Association

Don Nakayama
David Powell
Mary Fallat
George W. Holcomb III

Presented as part of the 50th anniversary of the American Pediatric Surgical Association meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, May 19–22, 2019.

Copyright © 2019 by American Pediatric Surgical Association
All rights reserved. Reproduction of the material herein in any form requires the written permission of the copyright holder.

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The 50th anniversary of the founding of the American Pediatric Surgical Association (APSA) celebrates those who dedicated their lives to the surgical care of infants and children. William Ladd founded the specialty through the disciplined study of the conditions that beset his patients and devised specific operations that addressed them. Undaunted by conditions that defied operative solutions and confronted by repeated failures, Robert Gross, Orvar Swenson, and Cameron Haight eventually
met success with landmark operations that were centerpieces of an era of spectacular surgical advances.

The campaign for formal recognition of pediatric surgery as a specialty of surgery was met with fierce resistance from powerful figures in the surgical establishment. In part a reaction to repeated failures to win board certification status, APSA was formed as a surgical society entirely dedicated to the new field of pediatric surgery and the traditions of patient care, education, and research of its surgical forebears. The success of the Association is a monument to the vision of a discipline dedicated to the care of infants and children.

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It is fitting to include this summary of the history of the American Pediatric Surgical Association and its presidents as part of the fiftieth anniversary meeting. All presidents were elected by their peers to lead this organization from its founding to the present day. In the short descriptions, one can peer through the arc of history and understand their achievements within the era in which they lived and get a sense of their character by the manner in which they effected the surgical care of children. The history of APSA is woven within the fabric of the history of pediatric surgery and it is no surprise that the presidents of this organization were also the pioneers of the field - creating surgical and scientific solutions for life-threatening and poorly understood anomalies and conditions in children thereby converting hopelessness to hope. An important lesson in these histories and in the field is that hopeless does not exist for our patients and that hope comes with commitment and creativity.

Our society and culture today bear little resemblance to that of fifty years ago. As well, the care of patients and the health care system of the past bear little resemblance to what we do and the systems we work in today. However, children still become ill, get injured and are diagnosed and born with anomalies. Reading these histories will be important for all of us to understand the guiding principles of our profession which are unchanged and will keep us on the steady trajectory of making the best care of the patient our highest priority. We must always train the young surgeons to provide the best of current care, innovate to constantly improve care and teach future generations to carry this torch in the surgical care of children. Fifty years hence, our future will be their history and we can be proud to have contributed to the one hundredth anniversary celebration.
J. P. Vacanti


The preface to the inaugural edition of the two-volume text Pediatric Surgery states, “Because we feel that the current state of knowledge is best understood in the light of its development, we have prefaced many subjects with an historical résumé.” Similarly, a book was conceptualized to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Pediatric Surgical Association that would include the story of the creation of the organization and the personalities and achievements of the specialty. The scope of the book has been expanded to briefly chronicle the history of the field from the 19th century to the present.

Past presidents, their families and associates were asked to submit personal photos, anecdotes and summaries of their professional accomplishments - the latter an impossible task because each is so accomplished. Important articles were chosen on the basis of impact on the field and frequency of citation. Editing of text, events, images and articles was therefore needed and heartfelt apologies are given for any oversights and unintentional changes in context.

When the time came to give the book a title, the decision came quickly: Saving Lifetimes, APSA’s new motto. In a letter to Judson Randolph, H. William Clatworthy, Jr., remembered the heady early days of pediatric surgery. “We were saving
whole lifetimes that had never been saved before,” he wrote. “Saving lifetimes” crystallized the essence of pediatric surgery so perfectly that it became the title of this book. Don Nakayama wrote the summaries for the decades before APSA and the profiles of most of the early presidents. David Powell acted as an editor and culled presidential addresses and Board of Governors meeting minutes for many of the quotations and events, respectively. Whit Holcomb joined the effort given the role that the Journal of Pediatric Surgery has played in our specialty. Krista Walker created a publication that met professional standards of readability and stylish design. Mary Fallat served as editor-in-chief. There was one memorable marathon work session in Louisville that cemented the overall concept and content of the book.

We hope you will enjoy reading it as much as we have enjoyed putting it together.

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Last updated: May 20, 2019