Cardiac surgeon Robert Replogle, MD, 1931-2016

Cardiac surgeon Robert Replogle, MD, 1931-2016

May 24, 2016

Robert L. Replogle, MD, a nationally recognized specialist in congenital and open-heart surgery, died at the University of Chicago Medicine on Monday, May 9, surrounded by his family. He was 84 years old.

Replogle spent most of his career in Chicago, beginning in1967 at the University of Chicago, followed by leadership positions at Michael Reese, Ingalls, and Columbus hospitals. The long-time Hyde Park resident retired in 1998.

His impact, however, was international. Replogle lectured all over the world. He was one of the first members of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (STS), an organization in which he held multiple leadership roles, including president from 1996 to 1997.

He was also a key player in developing, a national database managed by STS that includes detailed records of millions of cases, which can be used to track variations in surgical mortality and to negotiate reimbursement from government and private payers.

"Bob Replogle was at the core of visionary changes that have had a lasting impact on cardiothoracic surgery worldwide," said thoracic surgeon Mark Ferguson, MD, professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, who trained with Replogle. "He had the personality, foresight, and intelligence to make lasting connections among various disciplines." In addition to the creation of the STS National Database, his contributions include the establishment of the Thoracic Surgery Foundation and the STS political action committee.

"For me," said another colleague, Keith Horvath, MD, director of cardiothoracic surgery research at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Replogle was "my surgical father. I could not have asked for a better mentor. I remember him every time I dispense advice, which always began with the preface, 'So, here's the deal…'"

Replogle embraced new technology. One of his first scholarly papers, published in 1963, when he was a resident at Boston Children's Hospital, described the "Replogle tube," a two-channel suction device inserted into the throat of a newborn with a malformed esophagus to prevent aspiration pneumonia. It is still in use.

Robert Lee Replogle was born Sept. 30, 1931, in Ottumwa, a farming community in rural Iowa. His family moved to nearby Clear Lake when he was seven. He entered Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, in 1949, where he studied biology, played football and practiced with the nationally ranked wrestling squad.

His education was interrupted by the Korean War. In 1951, Replogle enrolled in the United States Navy and worked at the Naval Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, where he met surgeon Ralph Alley, MD, who nurtured his interest in medical sciences. After the war, Replogle returned to Cornell College, but because he was accepted by Harvard Medical School for the fall of 1956, he never finished his undergraduate degree. The institution later granted him an honorary doctorate in 1972.

In medical school, Replogle was mentored by Robert Gross, MD, an inspirational cardiothoracic pediatric surgeon. That same year, he met a college undergraduate, a freshman named Carol Heeschen. Before their first date, he told friends he was concerned she might be a little immature, but after their second date, she told her roommate: "That's the man I'm going to marry."

The pair fulfilled that vision in 1958 and continued their education. She earned her PhD in English literature. He graduated cum laude from medical school in 1960, did an internship at the University of Minnesota Hospital, and began his residency in the Harvard hospital system, specializing in pediatric surgery at what is now known as Boston Children's Hospital.

Replogle completed his residency in 1966, spent a year on staff at Boston Children's and, in 1967, moved to the University of Chicago to direct the congenital heart surgery program. He rose quickly through the ranks, becoming section chief of pediatric surgery in 1970 and chief of cardiac surgery in 1973.

Replogle later took time off to complete additional training in adult cardiac surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. When he returned, he concentrated on adult and pediatric open-heart operations. In 1978, his team garnered national attention when they performed a triple cardiac bypass for entertainer Jackie Gleason, who was on tour in Chicago.

Although he retained his connections to the University of Chicago, Replogle also took on the role of chief of cardiac surgery at nearby affiliate Michael Reese Hospital from 1977 to 1989. In the late 1980s, he also headed cardiac surgery programs at Ingalls Memorial Hospital and Columbus Cabrini Hospital, also on the South Side of Chicago. He retired in 1998b after having built strong surgical teams, mentored many outstanding academic surgeons and published more than 100 scientific papers and book chapters.

"For those who knew him, Bob was a force of nature," Ferguson said. "He changed the nature of our specialty."

Outside the office, Replogle also found ways to investigate "fast cars, scuba diving, underwater photography and collecting wine," Ferguson added. But the project that seemed to mean the most to him was Opportunity Village. Located in Clear Lake, Iowa, Opportunity Village is home for adults with disabilities, including Replogle's brother Ralph, who suffered from cerebral palsy. Founded in the 1960s, it now cares for more than 600 residents.

Replogle is survived by his wife Carol, of Chicago; three children: Jennifer (Mark) Bremer of Boston, Edith (Scott) Sheffer of Palo Alto, California; and son Robert E. (Michelle) Replogle, Grand Junction, Colorado.; plus nine grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, donations should be directed to Opportunity Village, in Clear Lake, Iowa, or to Cornell College, Mt Vernon, Iowa, in memory of Robert L. Replogle.