Reves Sails Into the Sunset

He helped pioneer modern anesthesiology, co-founded the Duke Heart Center, developed Duke Anesthesiology into one of the best anesthesiology departments in the country, and upped the ante of national respect for the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) College of Medicine. So, it was fitting when shortly after Joseph “Jerry” Reves, MD, retired June 30 as vice president for Medical Affairs, dean, and professor at the MUSC College of Medicine, he and his wife Jenny sailed off into the sunset.

Well, actually they motored off into the sunset on July 6, 2010 on their 41-foot motorboat named Sweetgrass. Their destination is the 5,500 mile long Great Loop that will take them from Charleston, S.C. through the Chesapeake, to the Hudson River, the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, around the tip of Florida, and back to Charleston. They plan to complete the journey in sections.

“Seeing America’s earliest states and towns from the water seems like a great way to sail into the next phase of our lives,” he says. “Taking an extended cruise with Jenny and our Labrador is just the next adventure in a life full of them.”

The relaxation Reves will enjoy on the trip is well earned. His career has been a chain of milestone accomplishments, linked, he says, by the robust and enduring influence of his 17 years at Duke.
He first gained international recognition in 1975 while associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB). Reves was the first physician in the world to use the sedative midazolam (Versed) on a surgery patient. Today, Versed is one of the most common anesthetics used around the world.

“It was approved by the FDA the year I came to Duke (1984) and I continued to do a lot of research on it,” Reves says. “It became a very important drug, and when I stepped down as the head of the Duke Heart Center in 1997, Roche (the company that makes the drug) endowed the Duke Heart Center Lectureship. I made them a lot of money and they gave Duke a little something in return.”

Reves co-founded the Duke Heart Center in 1987 with then-chairman of the Department of Surgery, David C. Sabiston Jr., MD, and Joseph C. Greenfield Jr., MD, then-chair of the Department of Medicine. He served as its director for 10 years.

“I remember Joe saying to me, ‘You know, we have a cancer center; I don’t know why we don’t have a heart center,’ I said I didn’t know either, so Tom Bashore, MD, (cardiology) and Bob Jones, MD, (cardiac surgery) and I got deputized to figure it out,” Reves says. Three-days before he retired as chancellor of the Medical Center, William G. Anlyan, MD, appointed Reves as the first director of the Duke Heart Center.

Just two years prior to that in 1985, Reves was instrumental in the success of Duke’s first-ever heart transplant—the first in North Carolina. Reves designed the anesthesia protocol for the delicate operation on the 55-year-old father of five children.

“Heart transplant patients are arguably the sickest patients you’ll take care of,” Reves says, “so you have to be very careful that you don’t give them too much anesthesia, which could kill them, or too little so they might remember.”
The surgery was successful, and Reves remembers it as a “remarkable demonstration of the close teamwork of the surgeons and anesthesia team.” It also demonstrated how far Reves had taken the Division of Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology after just one year as chief. He was named chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology in 1991, and held that position for 10 years. As chairman, Reves created sub-specialties within the department such as obstetrics, neurology, vascular, and pediatrics. His leadership and foresight made Duke Anesthesiology one of the best programs in the country. He says his favorite time at Duke was helping young careers develop. “It was a special time and special things happened. The great thing is, it’s still happening and that is very gratifying.”

While honoring Reves at a dinner in April, MUSC assembled nearly a dozen of his former associates who had advanced to become department chairs at universities around the country. They included former Duke house staff officers and faculty: Peter S. A. Glass, MD, HS’87-’88, chairman and professor of the Department of Anesthesiology at The State University of New York at Stony Brook; Mark Newman, MD, HS’88-’89, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at Duke; David Lubarsky, MD, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Miami; Debra Schwinn, MD, HS’86-’89, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Washington; and William Greeley, MD, HS’76-’80, chairman of the Department of Anesthesiology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Dr. Reves was an unbelievably giving individual—of his time, of his brain and intellect, and of his enthusiasm,” says Glass. “When he felt passionate about something, he would never let go.”

While at MUSC from 2001-10, Reves helped its cancer center achieve National Cancer Center Institute designation, earned MUSC the Clinical Translational Science Award, increased its National Institutes of Health funding, and increased the number of minorities enrolled in the medical college. “Much of what is good about Duke, we are trying to do at MUSC,” Reves says. “We want to emulate Duke. We won’t catch Duke, but we can be more like Duke.”

Other retirement activities will include serving as an advisor to the Duke DREAM Campaign, and writing a book about staying healthy while cruising. “I want to learn what illnesses and injuries are common for people on boats, get data, and ultimately write an evidence-based book that people will carry on-board to know how to stay healthy.”

Reves and his wife, Jenny, have three grown daughters: Virginia, Christy, and Betsy. You can follow their boating adventure on their blog at sweetgrassadventures.com.

By Jim Rogalski