F. William Blaisdell, MD, Past Naffziger Society President, Passes Away

The Naffziger Society mourns the passing of F. William Blaisdell, MD (1927-2020) who served as President of the Society from 2010-11. Dr. Blaisdell was a true giant of American surgery and one of the most influential figures in the history of the UCSF Department of Surgery.

F. William Blaisdell was born in 1927 and grew up in nearby Watsonville, California. He came from a family of physicians: both of his grandfathers, as well as his father and uncle were doctors. Blaisdell attended Stanford University for his undergraduate and medical school education. He completed his internship at Philadelphia General Hospital and 2 years of military service with the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He completed his surgery residency at Stanford, which at the time was clinically based in San Francisco, at both the San Francisco General Hospital and the Presbyterian Hospital (now part of CPMC). He spent one year of training during his residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital under Francis Moore, and an additional year of postgraduate training with Michael DeBakey and Denton Cooley in Houston.

In 1960 Dr. Blaisdell started his first faculty position as Chief of the Surgical Service at the San Francisco VA Hospital. In 1966 he became Chief of Surgery at San Francisco General Hospital. Under Blaisdell’s leadership, the Surgical Service at SFGH would become the pre-eminent Trauma Surgery program in the country. In 1968, Blaisdell formally established the Trauma Surgery service at SFGH, which would become the model for urban trauma surgery systems worldwide. Blaisdell also oversaw the development and modernization of Emergency Services, Outpatient Surgery Clinics, and the Intensive Care Unit at SFGH, transforming the concept of the safety-net hospital and forever changing the care of San Francisco’s most vulnerable populations.  

Blaisdell built the Surgical Research program at SFGH, and throughout his career made many contributions to the investigation of trauma, critical care, and vascular surgery. He was the first surgeon to perform axillo-femoral bypass for patients with occlusive aorto-iliac disease, and was a thought leader in the early research on ARDS and trauma coagulopathy.

One of Dr. Blaisdell’s most important legacies was his long list of trainees, comprised of many future leaders of the UCSF Department of Surgery and of American surgery as a whole. A partial list of Blaisdell trainees from his time leading the SFVA and SFGH includes Robert Lim, Robert Allen, Lawrence Way, George Sheldon, Ted Schrock, Don Trunkey, Brent Eastman, Jerry Goldstone, Frank Lewis, Orlo Clark, Tom Russell, Cliff and Karen Deveney, and Bill Schecter. Blaisdell was also an early advocate for women in surgery; one of his first acts as Chief of Surgery at SFGH was to hire Muriel Steele to a faculty position, making her the first female surgeon in the history of that hospital.

In 1978 Dr. Blaisdell became the Chair of Surgery at UC Davis, where he continued his distinguished career until his retirement in 2002. He served as President of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma in 1991, and was the recipient of one of the American College of Surgeons’ highest honors, the Distinguished Service Award, in 2002. Even after leaving SFGH, Dr. Blaisdell kept close ties with his former colleagues and trainees in San Francisco. He was a loyal mentor and friend to many UCSF Department of Surgery members and he will be dearly missed.

A biography of Dr. Blaisdell written by Dr. Robert Lim can be found here. A book by Dr. William Schecter and colleagues, “The History of the Surgical Service at San Francisco General Hospital,” found here, also contains many wonderful stories about the Blaisdell years at SFGH.

We will be forever grateful to Dr. Blaisdell for the lasting impact he had on the advancement of surgery, not only in San Francisco, but around the world.

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