A Racehorse, a Playwright and a Trump

Lahey Celebrates 95 Years

As April 2, 2018 is the 95th anniversary of the founding of Lahey Clinic, it’s timely to look back at some historical highlights.

First, a quiz. Which Lahey doctor had a prize-winning racehorse named for him? Which famous playwright sought out Lahey Clinic when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer? What did Dr. Frank Lahey discover when he examined President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944?

And who is Lahey Hospital & Medical Center’s Trump building named for?

The answers to these questions and more are on view in an interactive history and philanthropy display in the Burlington hospital’s East Lobby. The exhibit is free and open to the public.

“The Mayo of Boston”

Founded in the Back Bay in 1923, Lahey Clinic began as a small multispecialty practice with the goal of “leading an upward trend in the improvement of surgery.”

Inspired by the teamwork he had observed while serving in a World War I field hospital in France, Dr. Frank Lahey opened a multispecialty practice in the Back Bay in 1921 and went on to found his namesake clinic in Kenmore Square in 1923. He introduced modern, efficient and safe staged thyroid surgery to Boston and he pioneered two-stage surgeries for a number of conditions, greatly improving patient outcomes.

The Clinic’s reputation soared over the years, and in 1940, the American Medical Association elected Lahey as its president, calling him the “Mayo of Boston.”

Lahey and Roosevelt

In 1941, Lahey headed to Washington, DC, to begin recruiting 60,000 doctors to serve in World War II. And in 1944, he examined President Roosevelt and concluded he would not survive another term in office. After relaying his findings to the Surgeon General, Lahey reluctantly agreed to stay silent. (Lahey’s memo about this is on display in the exhibit.)

As the Clinic’s reputation grew, its doctors and nurses served the public as well as prime ministers, performers, professional golfers, champion prizefighters and Red Sox legends.

Prominent patients

John F. Kennedy was a frequent and longterm patient and his brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, was treated at the clinic in 1964 following a plane crash that fractured 13 of the vertebrae in his spine.

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry (“A Raisin in the Sun”) was seen by Dr. Kenneth W. Warren in 1964 for pancreatic cancer, and other physicians treated Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, golf champion Bobby Jones, and heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney.

British Foreign Secretary (and later prime minister) Anthony Eden came to Lahey Clinic in 1952 for a bile duct repair to correct a previous surgery, enhancing the clinic’s international reputation and that of surgeon Richard Cattell, MD.

A racing legend

When neurosurgeon Charles A. Fager, MD, saved the life of Hall of Fame horse trainer John Nerud in 1965, the grateful patient named a young thoroughbred in his honor. The equine “Dr. Fager” went on to become a racing legend.

In 1980, the clinic opened a hospital in Burlington, Massachusetts, and relocated to the suburbs after plans to expand in Boston went awry. A primary care clinic and radiotherapy center on the hospital grounds was named for John G. Trump, the late MIT electrical engineer and physicist, in honor of his many contributions to the Radiology Department and his service to the clinic. Under his leadership, the rotational radiation therapy used in cancer treatment was developed.

Flagship hospital 

Now known as Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, the teaching hospital is the flagship institution of the Lahey Health System in Northeastern Massachusetts. Home to a Level II trauma center and the largest live donor liver transplant program in the country, it treats more than 28,000 inpatients each year and trains 130 residents and fellows.

Artifacts on display

The interactive exhibit at the hospital features a historical timeline, artifacts from Dr. Lahey, a handwritten surgical journal from 1947-48 and a prototype of a portable chemotherapy delivery device invented at Lahey. Interactive touch screens display the contents of the journal, profiles of leading donors, and donor lists.