Cardiology's Miracle Worker
Date: February 1, 2013
Gottlieb C. “Bud” Friesinger ’55 spent 20 years leading Vanderbilt’s Division of Cardiology, making it one of the finest in the nation—but all the while, he remained the quintessential Hopkins School of Medicine man. “My body, mind, and energies went to Vanderbilt,” Friesinger recalled in 2008, “but my soul stayed on Broadway.”
A pioneer in cardiopulmonary resuscitation—in 1957, he became the first ever to use William Kouwenhoven’s A-C closed chest defibrillator on a patient—he also was founding director of Hopkins Hospital’s Coronary Care Unit in 1967. His research and resulting advances in cardiac care were largely responsible for reducing the one-year acute myocardial infarction mortality rate from 40 percent to 4 percent, “one of the great miracles of modern medicine,” says cardiologist Myron “Mike” Weisfeldt ’65, physician-in-chief and director of the Department of Medicine.
Friesinger died on July 28, 2012, in Nashville of complications following surgery for colon cancer. He was 83.
Before moving to Vanderbilt in 1971 to take over its cardiology division, Friesinger spent 25 years at Hopkins, first as a medical student, then as a resident, and finally as a cardiologist in the Department of Medicine. He also served for 21 years as a member of Johns Hopkins University’s board of trustees and 11 years as a member of the Johns Hopkins Medicine board, chairing the external advisory committee for the Institute for Advanced Science and Technology in Medicine.
Friesinger’s research both at Hopkins and Vanderbilt was wide-ranging and produced landmark findings. He studied the development and use of coronary arteriography, especially for measuring coronary blood flow and assessing the determinants of angina pectoris; the characteristics of the hemodynamics of myocardial infarction; and the development of nuclear medicine techniques to assess ventricular function.
Investigation of pharmacological agents, including digitalis and nitroglycerin, was another aspect of his research; and in the decade prior to his retirement in 2002, he focused on cardiovascular conditions in the elderly.
He wrote more than 100 articles for peer-reviewed journals, and more than 25 textbook chapters, and edited two books. In retirement, among his many projects was what he called “a little history”—an account of the substantial links between Vanderbilt’s medical school and Hopkins’. Largely completed at the time of his death and tentatively titled The Vanderbilt-Johns Hopkins Connection: A Case Study of Medical Education in the 20th Century, the book currently is being edited and indexed by his administrative assistant and one of his grandsons and should be published in 2013.
“He did important research,” says his daughter Alison Friesinger, “but the most important thing to him professionally was to be, as he put it, ‘an old-fashioned doctor,’ the kind who spent time with his patients and understood them.” NAG