numero rivista e pagine: HSR Proceedings in Intensive Care and Cardiovascular Anesthesia 2011; 3(3): 153-156
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The making of the Roland Hetzer International Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery Society

Authors: E.M. Delmo Walter*

Department of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Deutsches Herzzentrum Berlin, Berlin, Germany and Children?s Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

Corresponding author: * Corresponding author:
Delmo Walter, EM J Department of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Deutsches Herzzentrum Berlin, Berlin, Germany and Children?s Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA
E-mail: delmo-walter@dhzb.de

The life and work of Roland Hetzer, including his many outstanding contributions to cardiothoracic surgery and to surgical education, research and teaching, serve as an example and great inspiration for past and new generations in our specialty. An internationally renowned cardiovascular surgeon, medical inventor, medical statesman, and teacher, he has trained thousands of surgeons since 1986, when he accepted the directorship at Deutsches Herzzentrum Berlin (DHZB) and the chairmanship of its Department of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery.
He set up this cardiac surgery centre which has performed more than 68,000 open heart operations and provides a full spectrum of treatment modalities for every age group, for every cardiac surgical case, even for the end-stage heart diseases, from heart and lung transplantation to artificial pumps. He opened the doors for foreign physicians and surgeons, established cardiac perfusion as a profession, developed a pediatric assist programme with miniaturised ventricular assist devices which today are still the only ones in the world for long-term application in newborns, infants and small children. He has profoundly influenced the careers of many cardiac surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, intensivists and allied health personnel. His balanced interest in the science and the art of surgery, in addition to his pursuit of clinical excellence, proved the motivating factors for his outstanding career. His exceptional surgical accomplishments resulted from his gentle, yet purposeful surgical technique, merged with a superior sense of biological perfection. To watch him operating is to watch an artist at work, an experience enjoyed by the thousands of surgeons who have seen him in action in the operating room over the years.
As a teacher, he has trained surgeon from all over the world and continues to mentor new generations of cardiac surgeons. His teachings become a professional and moral guide in their surgical careers. Because of his teaching, they understand the importance of maintaining professional relationships with all those with whom they work, and especially the importance of treating patients and their families with humanity and with the understanding that all their actions must be directed, first and foremost, to the relief of human suffering. His teachings are touchstones in their daily clinical work, enriching their clinical practice and all aspects of their professional lives. The values he transmitted to them are the most important gift they have received from this brilliant man and revered mentor. His concept of “keep it simple, make it last” is undebatable.
With a career that has spanned 40 years, Prof. Hetzer has built a reputation for being indispensable. His patients include everyone from the ordinary person next door and people without means to a list of “Who’s Who” among world leaders, including the late Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who engage Hetzer because they know he is the best. As a scientist, Prof. Hetzer has published more than 1,000 medical reports, research papers, chapters and books on topics related to cardiovascular medicine.
Overseeing cases, consulting with colleagues and mentoring younger surgeons, he continues to make his mark on the world. Hetzer performs surgery as if he were 40 and continues to travel the globe giving lectures. Perhaps one may think, “Do you want a 67-year-old surgeon operating on your heart?” The answer could be, “Yes, if he is someone who has performed more than 20,000 cardiovascular procedures in his career.”
Hetzer has taken risks others weren’t willing to take, to advance medicine, and this is the mark of his passion for innovation.
Hetzer says, “I like my work, very much. I like it so much that I don’t want to do anything else.” Most people who are happy in life spend time doing what they love. This usually makes them extremely good at what they do. Hetzer exemplifies the power of what can happen when our work requires what we are good at and passionate about.
With regard to his patients, the indefatigable Hetzer has an uncompromising dedication to perfection. He is known as a taskmaster who sets very high standards, yet he never demands more from others than he demands from himself.
Hetzer’s innovations are on a par with those of, for example, Dr. Michael E. DeBakey and Dr. Denton A. Cooley. He was a key player in the development of artificial pumps that help patients waiting for transplants alive. In 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first human heart transplant in South Africa. The problem then was that recipients’ bodies rejected the new organs and death rates were high. In the 1980s cyclosporine, a new anti-rejection drug paved the way for organ transplants. Hetzer was among the first to begin doing the procedure in Germany and was the first in Europe to develop new protocols on triple immunosuppression therapy and to advance the field of heart transplants.
Generativity is the care and concern for the development of future generations through teaching, mentoring, and other creative contributions. It’s about leaving a positive legacy. All great leaders are generative and Hetzer is no exception. He has inspired many medical students to pursue careers in cardiovascular surgery. His reputation has brought many people to the Deutsches Herzzentrum Berlin and helped transform it into one of the premier medical institutions in the world.

How does one pay tribute to a surgeon, mentor, pioneer of innovation, leader, and humanist, who is considered one of the greatest of our time?
To honor the mentorship, leadership and contributions of Prof. Dr. Roland Hetzer in the field of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, the Roland Hetzer International Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery Society (RHICS) was founded on May 20, 2011 by cardiothoracic and vascular surgeons who have trained and worked under him, including former students, present staff and colleagues from all over the world. It was formally inaugurated on June 13, 2011.
The exclusive objectives of the RHICS are:

  1. to provide a forum for expert discussion on relevant cardiothoracic issues and to set up guidelines based on conclusions derived from this expert opinion forum 
  2. to promote cardiothoracic surgical education skills from beyond standardized and statistical (experience-based) medicine to a patient-based medicine wherein treatment approaches are individualized and personalized, and specific high-quality treatment tailored to the patient’s unique pathology so as to give them an optimal quality of life, after surgery. 
  3. to promote continuing medical education through the holding of regular symposia and meetings and the continuance of clinical and experimental research efforts and the publication of the results in scientific journals, and 
  4. to foster international collaboration and cooperation in clinical practice and scientific research in cardiothoracic and vascular surgery and associated fields.

Prof. Hetzer’s most visible legacy is reflected by the work and accomplishments of his trainees throughout the world. Many of them have gone on to serve as chairpersons and directors of their own successful surgical programmes in Europe and around the world. The seeds of knowledge, words of wisdom, and unrelenting goals of excellence that Prof. Hetzer has planted in the minds and hearts of the surgeons and physicians he has trained and has touched through his teachings and writings germinate to fruition each day and will continue to do so for generations to come.
Hetzer’s bequest will live on in so many ways through the thousands of patients he has treated directly and through his creation of a generation of physician educators, who will carry his legacy far into the future. His advances will continue to be the building blocks for new treatments and surgical procedures for years to come.
Hetzer’s life and legacy prove that one person who chooses to play to his genius can change the world and make it a better place for all. He has made the Deutsches Herzzentrum Berlin a place where no patient is refused. Hetzer literally changed the rules of the game and thousands of lives are saved each day.
The RHICS thus hopes to continue his legacy and the ideals for which he stands.


Cite as: Delmo Walter EM. The Making of the Roland Hetzer International Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery Society. HSR Proceedings in Intensive Care and Cardiovascular Anesthesia 2011; 3 (3): 153-156.