Editor’s Preamble to the Profile of Eugene Braunwald
Writing a preamble to the Profile of Dr. Eugene Braunwald is a daunting task, for it is impossible to convey the enormity of his impact on cardiovascular medicine in the limited space I have.
What can I say, in one paragraph, about Dr. Braunwald’s research contributions? Surely it won’t be enough to point out that he has laid the foundations of classic chapters of cardiovascular physiology, such as myocardial oxygen consumption, cardiac mechanics, and cardiovascular hemodynamics. Or that he has been pivotal in identifying the etiology, pathogenesis, and treatment of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Or that he has created and spearheaded the concept of infarct size limitation (inspiring my own scientific career). Or that he has illuminated our understanding of heart failure and revolutionized the management of postinfarction left ventricular remodeling. Or that he has led more than 50 TIMI trials, which have transformed the management of acute coronary syndromes. No, that won’t do, because this list is woefully incomplete. There is so much more. I think the best way to put it is that his research has had a major impact on cardiovascular medicine, greater than that of any other contemporary investigator.
And how is it possible to describe the stature of this man in a few sentences? The best I can do is to mention some facts. For example, that the living Nobel Prize laureates in medicine or physiology have voted Dr. Braunwald as “the person who has contributed the most to cardiology in recent years.” That he has published more than 1000 articles, is the editor of the premier textbook of cardiovascular medicine in the world, and has the highest h index in the field of cardiology and cardiovascular science—a stunning 175. That his awards, prizes, and recognitions are too many to count. That he has trained generations of academic cardiologists, who have gone on to become academic leaders and train their own disciples. And that at the age of 81 (when most scientists are forgotten or marginalized), he continues to be a leader in cardiovascular medicine and is more productive than most of us, publishing seminal findings at an unabated pace. But I think even this summary is wanting, because many things have been left out. Probably the best way to put it is simply this: Dr. Braunwald has been the epitome of academic cardiovascular medicine for the past 50 years.
But there is much more to Dr. Braunwald than his scholarly work. His persona and his incredible charisma cannot be conveyed in words. Remarkably, this charisma is immune to the corrosive force of time. For example, I distinctly remember his keynote lecture at the 2009 meeting of the Association of University Cardiologists in Carmel, California. The room was packed with Chiefs of Cardiology and other cardiovascular leaders, and there were even people standing at the back; so intense was their attention to the speaker that you could have heard a fly buzzing around between one word and the next. Just like 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago, the audience was riveted by the lecture of this 80-year-old icon. Absolutely amazing. Looking back at my own life, I see that Dr. Braunwald was already my hero when I was in medical school, just as he is today. If anything, my admiration has increased over the years.
And then there is the prose. That extraordinary prose. Those pages that you want to keep reading. Perhaps it’s because I am so sensitive to language (and to written language, in particular) that I must confess here my admiration for the manner in which Dr. Braunwald writes. His prose is simply beautiful, the most beautiful I have ever encountered in biomedical literature. It is simple, yet sophisticated; clear, yet profound; pleasant, but also accurate; informative, yet succinct; not overbearing, yet powerful; incisive, but also warm; and imbibed with crystalline logic. Reading Dr. Braunwald is a pleasure for the mind. The style is natural, fluent. The form is elegant but not affected. The words flow effortlessly, almost spontaneously, as if nobody had worked to put them together. And his mastery of picturesque metaphors and similes is unmatched (I will just mention here the famous “myocardial stunning”).
As my colleagues know, one of my favorite tenets is the plumber’s rule, which states that if you can’t explain a medical concept to your plumber, you don’t really understand it. Dr. Braunwald not only adheres to this standard but also surpasses it: his ability to make the complex simple is truly uncanny. This is, of course, the gift of geniuses.
We are fortunate that Dr. Braunwald accepted to join our editorial team. Maybe it was written in the stars that Circulation Research would have a long relationship with him. As I mentioned in my inaugural Editorial,1 his very first article (submitted at the beginning of his postdoctoral research Fellowship) appeared in this journal in 19542; since then, he has authored 68 articles in Circulation Research. Intriguingly, he interacted personally with Carl Wiggers, our founding Editor, as he narrates in a 2003 article.3 And 55 years after his first publication in Circulation Research,2 he became the Senior Editor of the journal.
Talking about his connection with the journal, I can’t help but mention that I ran into Dr. Braunwald in the afternoon of August 13, 2008, at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. I was on my way back from my interview with the Scientific Publishing Committee of the American Heart Association for the position of editor of Circulation Research. I had never run into Dr. Braunwald at the airport before, and I doubt if I will ever meet him in that venue again. That our paths crossed on the very day I interviewed for the editorship of Circulation Research was an incredible coincidence. I don’t know what the chances of an airport encounter right after my interview were, but they must be infinitesimally small, certainly less than one in a billion. I took it as a good omen. I told him about my plans for the journal, my concerns, and my goals. He listened with great interest, gave me excellent advice, and said words that were strongly supportive. Words that I will never forget.
I believe this Profile4.5 of Dr. Braunwald provides something new to our readers. You will find so much interesting information and so many insights into his persona. Although most people are aware of his enormous contributions to cardiovascular research and medicine, I suspect that very few are familiar with his personal life. In the interview you are about to read, Dr. Braunwald narrates his extraordinary human adventure, starting from his serene childhood in pre-Nazi Vienna and continuing through his escape from Austria, his arrival as a poor immigrant in New York City, his falling in love with research during medical school, and his ascent to the summit of cardiology to become the legend that he is, the undisputed “king” of this discipline. His life is an amazing story that would be worthy of a novel. I hope this Profile will help our readers to realize the extraordinary human dimension of the greatest scholar in contemporary cardiovascular medicine.
This Editor’s Preamble was originally published as part of the interview with Eugene Braunwald for the Circulation Research series Profiles in Cardiovascular Science. The original article is available online in two parts at http://circres.ahajournals.org/content/106/11/1668.full [part 1] and http://circres.ahajournals.org/content/106/12/1786.full [part 2]
- © 2015 American Heart Association, Inc.
- Bolli R
- Gordon AJ,
- Braunwald E,
- Ravitch MM
- Braunwald E
- Williams R
- Williams R