Frank Howard Lahey
Frank H. Lahey, the descendant of Irish grandparents, was born June 1, 1880, in Haverhill, Massachusetts, the only child of a successful bridge building contracior. He was an outstanding athlete in the schools in Haverhill, and went on to Harvard University for his undergraduate study. In the fall of 1900 he entered Harvard Medical School, and did graduate training at the Boston City Hospital. He had joined the Staffs of Harvard and Tufts Medical Schools when World War I interrupted. He became a major in the Medical Corps and went to France to be Chief of Surgery in an evacuation hospital. Following the war he opened an office and shortly thereafter was joined by a surgeon and an anesthesiologist. It was at this time that he conceived the idea of developing a multiple specialty clinic a practice which had been successful in the mid-west, but not in New England. With the clinic established he developed a Fellowship Program for training surgeons from all over the world. He was a master technician and his surgical interest encompassed a wide range, but he was particularly well known for his operative approaches to the thyroid, the biliary tract, and the gastrointestinal tract. The concept of staged operations was vigorously applied at the Lahey Clinic for many diseases-thyrotoxicosis, esophageal diverticulum, subphrenic abscess, hepatic abscess, pancreatic cancer, diverticular disease, and cancer of the rectum. By staging the operation, Lahey and other surgeons were able to keep operative mortality extremely low.
Of all the operations that Lahey did the one that is eponymously associated with him is the two-stage operation for cancer of the rectum, the subject of this Classics presentation. It was not until the early 1940s that one stage abdominoperineal resection had replaced this procedure as the primary treatment for cancer of the rectum at the Lahey Clinic.
Lahey was a master surgeon; he was consistent and thorough. He often cautioned, “Be not the first to adopt a new technique nor the last to discard an old one.” It has been said that through all his honors and awards the one that meant the most to him was the Bigelow medal of the Boston Surgical Society, which stated in part “... superlative surgeon, doctor who teaches doctors, redoubtable administrator, advisor of Presidents in war and peace and, above all, a man who has the courage to be honest with himself...”
Lahey died June 27, 1953 at the age of 73, after having been stricken in the operating room of a myocardial infarction.
The editor is grateful to Cornelius E. Sedgwick, M.D., for his reminiscences of Doctor Lahey.