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In the first half of the 20th century, MGH patients with respiratory failure could receive mechanical ventilation and other specialized treatments, but they were scattered throughout the hospital, straining available resources.

A golden anniversary

Celebrating 50 years of intensive care

11/Nov/2011

ICU INNOVATION: Standing, from left, Cobb; Ann L. Prestipino, MPH, senior vice president of MGH Surgical and Anesthesia Services and Clinical Business Development; Zapol; Millar; Lowenstein; Nicholson; Chipman; and Wiener-Kronish. Seated at center is Pontoppidan.

In the first half of the 20th century, MGH patients with respiratory failure could receive mechanical ventilation and other specialized treatments, but they were scattered throughout the hospital, straining available resources. In October 1961, Henning Pontoppidan, MD, then medical director of Oxygen Therapy – with the support of Henry K. Beecher, MD, former anesthetist-in-chief – requested and received approval to create the hospital’s first designated intensive care unit, the Respiratory Intensive Care Unit (RICU). On Oct. 28, members of the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine and the Critical Care Center gathered in the Ether Dome to celebrate the golden anniversary of intensive care at the MGH.

J. Perren Cobb, MD, director of the Critical Care Center, welcomed attendees, including Pontoppidan and his three daughters. Providing recollections of the early days of the RICU were Edward Lowenstein, MD, provost of the Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine and one of the unit’s first residents, and Sally Millar, RN, director of Patient Care Services Informatics, who worked on the unit in the late 1970s and was its first head nurse.

“To watch the progression of advances in the RICU from bench to bedside and from practice at the MGH to practice throughout the community was amazing,” recalled Millar.

Warren Zapol, MD, PhD, director of the Anesthesia Center for Critical Care Research and former anesthetist-in-chief, offered insight into the many research advances

that began in the RICU, including the unit’s leadership in providing respiratory support with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation and the use of inhaled nitric oxide. Daniel Chipman, RRT, assistant director of Respiratory Care Services, gave an overview of the parallel progress of respiratory care and intensive care.

Also offering remarks and congratulations were Jeanine Wiener-Kronish, MD, anesthetist-in-chief; Brit Nicholson, MD, chief medical officer; David Cullen, MD, a former MGH anesthesiologist; and Myanna Pontoppidan, who shared an anecdote about her father being likened to the “Mount Olympus” of his field. As a tribute to his contributions, the Henning Pontoppidan Visiting Professorship was established earlier this year.

In closing, Cobb described how intensive care has grown since its humble beginnings as a five-bed unit in the Phillips House. “The Critical Care Center now includes all nine ICUs hospitalwide and more than 130 total beds, and we continue to set the benchmark for our specialty,” said Cobb. “The credit goes to the entire team – the success we celebrate today is truly a group effort.”



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