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Physicians have fond memories of 'Chief'

Effort underway to establish new cardiovascular research chair

Friends and colleagues of the late Patrick H. Lehan, a beloved professor of medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC), recently initiated a $2- million drive to fund a chair in his honor. The Lehan family has agreed to match the money raised to establish the Patrick H. Lehan Chair of Cardiovascular Research.

“Dr. Lehan, or ‘Chief’ as everyone called him, is the single most important individual in influencing the cardiac care of patients in Mississippi,” said UMC cardiology professor Mike McMullan. “As director of the UMC division of cardiology for over 25 years, he trained 75 cardiology fellows, most of whom still serve as physicians in Mississippi. Directly or indirectly, he has helped shape the care for the majority of patients with heart disease in our state. It is only fitting that we establish a research chair in his name to honor his contributions to the healthcare of Mississippi and to improve upon the large burden of heart disease that continues to exist in our state.”

Lehan, a New York native who graduated cum laude from Georgetown Medical School, was a senior assistant surgeon at the University of Kansas Medical Center for the U.S. Public Health Service, a resident and fellow in medicine at the Jersey City Medical Center and trained at the T.J. White Cardiopulmonary Institute Pollack Hospital, where he was a National Heart Institute research fellow.

“(Dr. Lehan) knew more about cardiology than anyone,” said McMullan. “In fact, when sitting for his oral board examination in internal medicine, he even corrected the attending physician giving him the exam.”

After serving on staff at the New Jersey College of Medicine for three years, he joined the UMC faculty in 1966 as associate professor of medicine, director of the cardiovascular laboratory and a consultant in cardiology to the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He was promoted to professor in 1968, and was the Mississippi Heart Association William D. Love Research Professor of Cardiology until 1973. From 1970 to 1995, Lehan directed the cardiology division of the department of medicine, and also served a term as chief of staff of UMC.

“I distinctly remember the first day I was exposed to Chief,” said McMullan. “I was a second year medical student and in walks a man who reminded me of George Burns. He brought a machine in with him to make heart sounds, then made even better sounds himself without the use of the machine. I had no further exposure to Chief until I did a cardiology rotation during my fourth year. I learned more about pathophysiology of the heart, physical diagnosis and, of course, eponyms that month than at any other point in my career. I also learned more about eyegrounds, fingernails and fungal infections than I knew humanly possible. Most importantly, he taught me that learning could be fun. It was during that rotation that I knew I wanted to do cardiology for a living, and I wanted to learn it under Dr. Lehan. He had changed me for life.”

Wallace Conerly, M.D., the former vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the medical school, called Lehan a “superior teacher and clinician who made our training program in cardiology one of the best in the Southeast and had a major impact on the way that subspecialty is practiced in our state.”

Lehan`s work with fellow physician Angel Markov resulted in some of the first attempts to image coronary arteries to better diagnose and treat heart disease, which brought national attention to the medical center.

“Dr. Lehan is an icon at UMC and in Mississippi,” said Richard deShazo, M.D., chairman of the UMC Department of Medicine. “He had a quick wit and was a master clinician/teacher who encouraged all to strive for the excellence he demonstrated in his personal life.”

Bryan Barksdale, M.D., a Jackson cardiologist who trained under Lehan, called him “the best diagnostician and the most brilliant physician I’ve ever known.”

“All of his trainees loved him,” he said. “I was fortunate to have been one of them.”

McMullan recalled when Lehan read instructions to Drs. Jeff Fletcher and Jack Foster while they performed the first balloon angioplasty at UMC.

“This disturbed the patient a little, but when she asked if they had ever done this before, Chief told her ‘Honey, just relax. It`s just like flying an airplane. You just have to run through the checklist before take-off,’” said McMullan.

A member of the Alpha Omega Alpha national medical honor society, Lehan received the Silver Distinguished Achievement Award from the Mississippi Heart Association and the prestigious Laureate Award from the American College of Physicians. Lehan died Sept. 25, 2002.

“Establishing a chair in Dr. Lehan`s name is the best way to honor him and continue his work,” said Stacey Wall, member of the committee established to raise funds for the chair. “A named chair also would greatly enhance the medical center`s ability to attract another academic physician of Pat Lehan`s caliber.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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