Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Red Gold - The Epic Story of Blood Innovators and Pioneers
Blood Journey Blood History Blood Basics Innovators and Pioneers Education Ask the Experts

Edward Churchill Edward Churchill

Born: December 25, 1895
Died: September 2, 1972
Nationality: American
Occupation: surgeon

The following is reprinted from the 1963 edition of CURRENT BIOGRAPHY and written prior to Dr. Churchill's death in 1972.

In his area of specialization -- thoracic (chest) surgery -- Dr. Edward D. Churchill has helped to advance the frontiers of medical science through applied operative surgery, laboratory research, and teaching. He has been John Homans professor of surgery at the Harvard University Medical School since 1931 and chief of the General Surgical Service at Massachusetts General Hospital since 1948. Churchill was a pioneer in employing surgery in cases of tuberculosis and cancer of the lung. He performed the first successful operation in the United States to relieve constrictive pericarditis, a heart ailment, and he has done valuable work on diseases of the parathyroid glands. During World War II he served as a surgical consultant in the United States Army in the Mediterranean theater, evolving new concepts for management of the wounded in the field.

Born in Chenoa, Illinois on December 25, 1895, Edward Delos Churchill is the son of Ebenezer Delos and Maria A. (Farnsworth) Churchill. He was educated at Northwestern University, from which he received the B.S. degree in 1916 and the M.A. degree in 1917, as well as at the Harvard University Medical School, where he took the M.D. degree cum laude in 1920. Churchill completed his student internship at the Faulkner Hospital in Boston during the year 1919-20. He served his surgical internship from 1920 to 1922 and his residency from 1922 through 1924 at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was in the medical reserves of the United States Army in 1918.

At the Massachusetts General Hospital Churchill was an assistant in surgery in 1924-25, an assistant surgeon in the out-patient department in 1925-26, an associate in surgery in 1926-27, and an assistant visiting surgeon in 1927-28. From 1928 to 1930 he was an associate surgeon and the director of the surgical research laboratory at Boston City Hospital; he then returned to Massachusetts General Hospital as an associate surgeon. In 1931 Churchill was appointed chief of the West Surgical Service at Massachusetts General Hospital, and in 1948 he became chief of the General Surgical Service, a position he still holds. Meanwhile, in 1922 Churchill had become a member of the teaching staff, and in 1928 of the faculty, of the Harvard University Medical School. He has encouraged his students to undertake scientific investigations because he believes that new laboratory discoveries are important in the development of improved healing methods. At Harvard University Churchill was an assistant in surgery during 1922-23, an alumni assistant in surgery in 1923-24, and an instructor in surgery from 1924 to 1928. During 1926-27 he studied in Europe as a Moseley Fellow, and on his return became surgical consultant, and later senior physician, at the Rutland (Massachusetts) State Sanatorium for tuberculosis, where he helped introduce the surgical treatment of tuberculosis into New England. From 1928 to 1931 Churchill was an associate professor of surgery at Harvard, and since 1931 he has been the John Homans Professor of Surgery there. This chair is located at Massachusetts General Hospital. Specializing in thoracic (chest) surgery, Churchill has contributed to this field through laboratory research and applied operative surgery. Early in his career he developed an interest in the functioning and the diseases of the lung. He was the first to use spirometry (measurement of the breathing capacity of the lungs) to determine the reduction of lung ventilation following abdominal operations, and he wrote a paper on this subject with D. McNeil, which appeared in SURGERY, GYNECOLOGY, AND OBSTETRICS in April 1927. In the JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL MEDICINE, in April 1929, Churchill and Oliver Cope described a reflex mechanism -- rapid shallow breathing resulting from pulmonary congestion -- that is now known as the Churchill-Cope reflex.

Churchill has contributed to the early development of surgery for cancer of the lung and pulmonary tuberculosis. At a time when the mortality rates from lobectomy (excision of the lobe of the lung) were about 50 percent because of clumsy techniques and septic complications, Churchill addressed himself to the problem and demonstrated the safety of selectively removing diseased parts of the lung in the treatment of chest diseases. In April 1932, at a meeting of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, he presented a paper on "The Surgical Treatment of Carcinoma [malignant growth] of the Lung," describing the successful resection (excision of part of an organ) of the diseased lower and middle lobes of the right lung. The case he discussed was the first in which primary healing of the major bronchus was obtained by direct bronchial suture. A year later, in November 1933, Churchill performed the first single stage resection of the right lung for adenocarcinoma.

On July 18, 1928 Churchill performed one of the most notable surgical operations of his career, the decortication of the heart for relief of constrictive pericarditis. This is a condition in which the pericardium, or membranous sac surrounding the heart, tightens and squeezes the heart, causing chronic invalidism. By removing this membrane Churchill completely rehabilitated the patient. This was the first successful operation of its kind in the United States and one of the few in the world at that time. Through a subsequent large series of cases it became established as a dependable and widely used procedure.

During the 1930's Dr. Churchill was one of the medical men at Massachusetts General Hospital who pioneered in the study and treatment of hyperparathyroidism, a condition caused by an increase of secretion by the parathyroid glands. He was the first to remove a parathyroid adenoma (tumor) from the mediastinum (the area between the two pleural sacs), and he recognized hyperplasia (abnormal multiplication of cells) of the parathyroid and performed a resection on the diseased glands.

The concept of segmental pneumonectomy (removal of lung tissue), to replace the previously advocated total pneumonectomy, was introduced by Churchill in 1939. He suggested also that the bronchopulmonary segment replace the lobe as the surgical unit of the lung, and this idea proved fruitful in the treatment of bronchiectasis (the dilation of the bronchus or bronchial tubes) and in the development of excision surgery for pulmonary tuberculosis. Before World War II pulmonary tuberculosis was treated by collapse therapy, in which the diseased lung is collapsed and immobilized. Resection was not a recognized form of treating the disease, because it was considered dangerous in the presence of positive sputum due to possibilities of spreading the disease or causing bronchopleural fistula. Ignoring the more orthodox procedures, Churchill performed in 1939 a primary resection by lobectomy on six cases of pulmonary tuberculosis. The publication of the results in a paper in 1943 produced widespread controversy and criticism of its authors, Churchill and Robert Klopstock, but after World War II the use of resection instead of collapsotherapy, in pulmonary tuberculosis cases, with the aid of effective antibiotics became an accepted practice.

During World War II Churchill was commissioned a colonel in the medical corps of the United States Army, and he served in the North African-Mediterranean theater of operations as a surgical consultant from February 1943 to October 1945. He is credited with introducing many new procedures for management of the wounded, and he has written a number of articles about surgery during wartime. Churchill was awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the European Theater Service Medal.

Churchill is a consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army, at whose request he made a tour of medical installations of the Far East Command in January 1953, stopping in Hawaii, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Greece, and Italy. He is a charter member of the scientific advisory board of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and he was formerly chairman of the medical advisory committee to the Secretary of War (1946-48), a member of the armed forces medical advisory committee to the Secretary of Defense (1948-51), a member of the committee on veterans' medical problems of the National Research Council, and a senior civilian consultant in thoracic surgery to the Surgeon General of the Army.

The recipient of a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1958, Churchill visited medical centers in India and took part in the internship-residency program at King George's Medical College at Lucknow University. He has been visiting professor of surgery at the American University of Beirut and acting director of the department of surgery at the American University Hospital. Churchill has served on the editorial board of ANNALS OF SURGERY.

At present Churchill is special consultant to the chief of the division of general medical sciences of the National Institutes of Health. He serves on the advisory board of the American Hospital in Paris and is a consultant to the medical advisory council of the Shiraz Medical Center, Nemazee Hospital, Iran. Churchill is on the consulting staff of Faulkner Hospital, and he is chairman of the general executive committee of Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also a consultant to the New England Center and a trustee of Boston Medical Library.

Churchill has also been chairman, from 1946 to 1949, of the committee on surgery of the National Research Council; vice-chairman, in 1948-49 and 1953-55, of the task force on federal medical services of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government; a member of the Red Cross advisory board on health service; a member of the graduate training committee of the American College of Surgeons; and a trustee of the Boylston Medical Society.

An honorary member of some fifteen foreign medical societies, Churchill is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from the University of Algiers (1944), Princeton University (1947), Queen's University, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada (1954), and the University of Alabama (1959). Churchill belongs to the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, of which he was president in 1948-49; the American Surgical Association, of which he was president in 1946-47; the Society of Clinical Surgery, of which he was president in 1949-50; and many other American scientific and professional societies. He is a Knight of the French Legion of Honor, an honorary officer of the military division of the Order of the British Empire, a Commander in the Order of the Crown of Italy, and an officer of the Lebanese National Order of the Cedar. He was awarded the Roswell Park Medal of the Buffalo Surgical Society in 1952, the James Ewing Society Annual Award in 1953, and the Henry Jacob Bigelow Medal of the Boston Surgical Society in 1955.

Edward D. Churchill married Mary Lowell Barton on July 7, 1927. They have four children, Mary Lowell, Frederick Barton, Edward Delos, and A. Coolidge. Churchill is a Presbyterian. He belongs to the Aesculapian Club, the Century Association, the Harvard Club of Boston, the Tavern Club, and the Thursday Evening Club. He is a member of Sigma Xi, the honorary science research fraternity, and Delta Tau Delta, a social fraternity.

Works About Subject


Photo: Courtesy of the Harvard Medical Library.

Choose another person:
Back to introduction

Source: From CURRENT BIOGRAPHY, 1963. © Copyright by The H. W. Wilson Company. All rights reserved.


Print this page
E-mail this page

Pledge About the Series Resources Glossary Sitemap