Neulich Nachts in Houston—Again!
07 April 2017 (online)
In his presidential address at the EACTS (European Association for Cardio-Thoracic Surgery) meeting in Barcelona on October 3, 2016, Friedrich Wilhelm Mohr (FWM) told the story of how he came upon its subject: during a somewhat restless night in a Houston hotel room, hence its title “Neulich nachts in Houston.” He also remembered that he had visited this city 40 years earlier, at the tender age of 25, to watch Dres DeBakey and Cooley operating. This stimulated him to pursue a career in cardiac surgery, which he then did very successfully, as you know.
It is only befitting that I too came upon the concept for this editorial in a Houston hotel room having arrived for the STS meeting, and after having discussed with Thomas Walther at the airport that we had a supplement to do. And like FWM himself, I shall briefly tell you how our paths crossed and in which way he influenced me, which he did.
I first met FWM close up at the turn of the century at an Editorial Board Meeting of The Annals of Thoracic Surgery, where I had been serving as the first German board member since 1998, and where he was the second man in. This situation caused me considerable concern. I was, at that time, just a staff surgeon at University of Tübingen, and FWM had been the famous chief of the famous Leipzig Heart Center for quite some time. Being a “Hannover man” myself, I only knew that he came from a different “school”, but that my teacher Hans Georg Borst held him in the highest esteem. So how would he react to being second? In fact, he didn't. We simply met. And that was the first thing that impressed me: for him only facts seemed to count, and on a factual level he was very much at home and comfortable. Personal feelings and perhaps even vanities, if existent, were not perceptible, at least not for me. I left The Annals in 2006 after the maximum possible 9 years. FWM continued to fly the German flag, finally to become the STS International Director from 2011 until 2014.
Our second period of cooperation began in 2010 when I was elected Editor-in-Chief of The Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeon, FWM at that time being the First Vice-President of the German society. Having become its President in 2011, one major task was the then ongoing negotiation with Thieme Publishers regarding the renewal of the contract for the journal. Naturally, publisher and society had different stances and expectations, and the discussions sometimes verged on the emotional. For the president, however, only facts counted, and with his tenacity and sobriety I had already witnessed at The Annals he finally achieved a mutual agreement that has been to everybody's satisfaction ever since. It is this achievement for which I personally owe him gratitude most.
It is only logical to end this eulogy in Houston, this time during the day. In his brilliant C. Walton Lillehei Lecture, Samer Nashef focused on quality control and the publication of surgical outcomes in particular. I was absolutely delighted to see examples of VLAD (variable life-adjusted display) curves comparing individual surgeons' results in one institution, because I had seen this method at a council meeting of our society years before. The Leipzig team had compared themselves and, as far as I recollect, FWM did not rank “first,” whatever that means. It does exemplify, however, that the second thing counting for him besides facts is quality. Friedrich Mohr simply does not accept compromises whenever quality, facts, and, therefore, honesty are concerned.
Thank you, sir, for getting the rookie editor on his way and for providing me with an example how to go for and finally achieve the best. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy many pleasant years of hard-earned retirement.