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Coronary surgery is one of the most important medical advances of the 20th century, yet the pioneering work of Dr. Jordan D. Haller was never fully appreciated. As a young surgeon, Dr. Haller assisted Dr. Robert H. Goetz in performing the world's first successful clinical coronary artery bypass operation. On 2 May 1960, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine–Bronx Municipal Hospital Center, the team of Goetz and Haller used a nonsuture technique to connect the right internal mammary artery to the right coronary artery by means of a modified Payr's cannula made of tantalum; an angiogram performed on the 14th postoperative day showed the anastomosis to be patent. The patient remained free of angina and died on 23 June 1961 of a posterior myocardial infarction. Jordan continued working intensely on bypass grafting in the experimental laboratory; however, the project was dropped as a consequence of strong negative reaction from his own colleagues.
In 1974, Jordan and his 3 children—Matthew, Andrew, and Nina—stayed for a prolonged time in Argentina, and we spent 10 days at the Enchanted Garden in Diamante (the hometown of my childhood in the Province of Entre Ríos). Deep in his memory, Jordan quite often returned to the Enchanted Garden. Looking for his own cosmic tree, he never forgot the bougainvillea summerhouse and the straight trunk of the araucaria.
Dr. Haller greatly admired Denton Cooley's surgery. In 1978, he came to the Italian Hospital in Buenos Aires to practice the technique of subcommissural implantation of aortic prostheses. At the end of one procedure, he told me, “Domingo, your surgery reminds me of my hero Denton Cooley”; and together we published our experience in the predecessor to the Texas Heart Institute Journal.1 Once, during one of his prolonged stays in my cardiovascular service in Buenos Aires, every member of my surgical team and I offered Jordan an opportunity to stay with us forever, as a part of our own cardiac service. However tempted he might have been, Jordan's heart was in the States.
Jordan was a devoutly religious man. A few years ago, I pressed him to send me some information, without realizing that he was observing Yom Kippur. Jordan exploded and sent the following statement to my astonished secretary:
In the remote possibility that you are not aware … I am very unhappy about your harassment of me on my religious holiday. You have not allowed me the opportunity to observe the most sacred holiday of the year in my religion that concludes a week of solemn prayer. Dr. Liotta knows this and that my religion is three times older than yours and is the basis for your religion. Cool off and have some respect and consideration for others. I hope that you get the message that I am angry. I have done and continue to do all that I can in support of Dr. Liotta. Thank you. JDH
A few days later, I apologized to him and requested his forgiveness for my imprudent behavior, and he answered me, “I thank God because you are a great, tolerant man.” Jordan's son Matthew—now called Mordechai, a rabbi in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem—has 5 children, and they are the easternmost extension of Jordan's beloved family.
Some periods of Jordan's life were full of mental torment, especially his years in Los Angeles. Yet he endured it all. Later, he always saw the lighter side of otherwise depressing situations (due to his heart failure). Early in 2006, Jordan was so disabled that he asked me for the implantation of a mechanical assist system, to treat his advanced dilated cardiomyopathy. On that occasion, I advised him to contact Dr. Cooley as soon as possible.
Perhaps the spiritual aspect of his personality helped provide him the strength to carry on—that and his very active sense of humor. Once, in San Francisco, he took me with great mystery to the opera house, where he asked a friend of his to open the stage. There was, of course, no audience, but he began singing Italian arias that he knew by heart: from Verdi, Leoncavallo, Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and Puccini. Jordan had a beautiful voice.
On 24 April 2009, Jordan sent me his last note. He was ready and very excited to go with me to Paris. He was dreaming of meeting some of my old friends from the times of my chest residency in France. Unfortunately, I was already in Europe when I found his note on 20 June. I immediately answered Jordan, telling him of my meeting in Paris with Christian Cabrol, Alain Carpentier, Alain Pavie, and J.C. Chachques; of my meeting in Leipzig with F. Mohr and R. Battellini; and finally of my meetings in Berlin with Klauss Affeld and Ewang Hennig at their research laboratories. I looked forward in vain to Jordan's reply, not knowing that he had died on 9 June.
Jordan Haller was an inspiration to those around him and an honorable example for others, always a kind and considerate man; his manners, however, remained very formal, straightforward and almost official. Today, at the Italian Hospital of Buenos Aires, the professionals whom Jordan met more than 30 years ago remember him with great affection. Jordan was a good doctor, but, of more importance, he was a good person. These are the qualities that we try to teach our young School of Medicine graduates. It is gratifying for all of us to see in Jordan Haller a great example of creativity, bravery, and moral integrity.
On 9 June 2009, we lost Jordan D. Haller, who had enjoyed an illustrious and fascinating career as a cardiovascular surgeon. Although I cannot hope to match Dr. Liotta's vivid recollections of Dr. Haller, I can add a few more details on his life and career. Jordan was born in Pittsburgh on 5 September 1932. After taking his medical degree (1957) and serving his internship (1958) at Indiana University, he served a general surgery residency at Municipal Hospital Center in New York. By 1966, he was working under Adrian Kantrowitz at Maimonides. In 1971–72, Jordan served a fellowship in cardiovascular surgery at St. Luke's Episcopal and Texas Children's hospitals, where we published a clinical paper together.2 After almost a dozen years of private practice in Los Angeles (with a welcome break as guest professor at the Italian Hospital in Buenos Aires), he founded and directed the Laser Institute at Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh. From 1985 to 1991, he was medical director of C.R. Bard, Inc., in Billerica, Massachusetts. He later was vice-president of regulatory and clinical affairs at Visx, Inc., where he demonstrated the value and safety of excimer laser vision correction (Lasik and PRK).
Dr. Haller was a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and the American Society of Artificial Internal Organs, among others. He will be missed.