Passing of Merel H. Harmel, founding chair of Dept. of Anesthesiology

February 25, 2015

To: School of Medicine faculty and staff

From: Nancy C. Andrews, MD, PhD, Dean, Duke University School of Medicine
Mark F. Newman, MD, President, PDC

Subject: Passing of Merel H. Harmel, founding chair of Dept. of Anesthesiology

We are saddened to inform you that Merel H. Harmel, MD, professor emeritus and founding chair of the Duke University School of Medicine Department of Anesthesiology, passed away on Thursday, February 19, 2015. Dr. Harmel served as chair of the Department of Anesthesiology from 1971 to 1983, and had a profound impact on all those with whom he came in contact.

In 1945, Dr. Harmel became the first anesthesiology resident at Johns Hopkins. At the recommendation of his mentor, Austin Lamont, MD, Dr. Harmel participated in the first Blalock-Taussig shunt procedure—an operation developed to shunt blood to the lungs in children with tetralogy of Fallot, also known as “blue babies.” Taking place in just his eleventh month of residency, Dr. Harmel acted as the anesthesiologist for the procedure, which was pioneered by surgeon Alfred Blalock, MD, cardiologist Helen Taussig, MD, and assistant Vivien Thomas.

Following his time at Johns Hopkins and later at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Harmel went on to found the first anesthesia departments at State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center in 1952 and the University of Chicago in 1968. In 1971, Dr. Harmel became chair of the new Department of Anesthesiology at Duke. At that time there were only six faculty members, no residency program, and little academic enterprise.

Dr. Harmel worked diligently to recruit faculty, establish the residency program, and create an academic and research program. During his time at Duke, Dr. Harmel led the development of the world’s first electronic vital signs-monitoring system. Originally known as Duke Automatic Monitoring Equipment (DAME), the equipment was installed in Duke University Hospital when it was built in 1980. Similar equipment is now standard in all U.S. operating rooms. Dr. Harmel brought international prominence to Duke’s Department of Anesthesiology and was a strong advocate for medical student and resident education.

Please join us in extending condolences to his wife, Ernestine Friedl, PhD, former dean of Arts and Sciences and Trinity College at Duke University, and to Dr. Harmel’s friends and family.

A memorial service will be held on Monday, March 30, 2015, at 5:30 p.m. in the Duke University Chapel (please note change in start time). Memorial donations may be made to Duke University for the Merel Harmel Professorship in Anesthesiology or to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Photo credit: Chris Hildreth, Duke University Photography 

Chris KeithPassing of Merel H. Harmel, founding chair of Dept. of Anesthesiology