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Emerson Amos Moffitt, M.D.[1]

Male 1924 - 2011  (86 years)

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  • Name Emerson Amos Moffitt 
    Name Suffix M.D. 
    Gender Male 
    Born 9 September 1924  Harvey, York Co., New Brunswick, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location 
    CMS Member # 855 
    Biography Anesthetist championed new techniques to aid cardiac surgery in Canada
    After 18 years at the Mayo Clinic, he came back to Dalhousie University and created new programs to support specialists
    Special to The Globe and Mail
    May 27, 2011
    Emerson Moffitt took what he learned and ran with it.
    On the learning side, the physician spent 18 years soaking up the best lessons an anesthetist could ask for, as he conducted clinical and research work at the renowned Mayo Clinic during a watershed period for his discipline.
    He worked with a group that took part in the first of many open-heart surgeries, specifically those that used a still new technology that pumped oxygen into the circulatory system and took over for the still heart being operated on. He also wrote numerous papers on the effects of anesthesia and cardiovascular surgery on the heart, which helped cardiac surgeons around the world improve post-operative recovery for their patients.
    On the running-with-it side, "Moff" was an international star who came back to Halifax and helped build, from the ground up, anesthesia studies in Atlantic Canada. The findings of the provincial commission he chaired helped eventually to outfit regional hospitals in Nova Scotia with trained anesthetists. In the rest of the country he coaxed Canada's university anesthesia departments to confer and organized professional development for seasoned practitioners.
    "He was a prolific scientist and clinician who made crucial contributions to medicine's understanding of the impact of open-heart surgery and anesthesia while at Mayo Clinic," said Mark Warner, a doctor at the Rochester, Minn., institution.
    He resigned from Mayo in 1972, the year after his first wife died. Wanting his two teenage daughters to be closer to their relatives and with his climb up the Mayo administrative ladder seemingly stalled, he answered a year-long courting by his alma mater Dalhousie University and took up the call to teach, research and run a department.
    Emerson Amos Moffitt died on April 30 in Halifax at the age of 86 of heart failure. Born Sept. 9, 1924, in Harvey, N.B., he was the second of three children of Amos Alexander and Ellen Selena (née Wilson) Moffitt. He grew up in the small railway town of McAdam, where his father worked as a railcar repairman for Canadian Pacific and his mother ran a boarding house out of their home.
    Growing up during the Depression, the young Moffitt often worried that his father would lose his job, but that didn't happen. He proved to be a top student and his parents began early to save up for his education. He would become the only one of the three Moffitt children to attend university.
    In 1944, he interrupted his premed studies at UNB to enlist in the Fleet Army of the Royal Navy. He was stationed in England, where he trained as a pilot, but returned home when the war ended without having seen active duty. He resumed his undergraduate studies at UNB and then went on to Dalhousie Medical School, interning at the Victoria General Hospital. He graduated in 1951, the same year he married Helen MacDonald, a nurse at the Victoria, and set up a general practice in her hometown of North Sydney, N.S.
    It was during his time in the Cape Breton mining and port town that he began to see the wanting state of anesthesia. As a child, he had his tonsils removed on his kitchen table, and now he was expected to be that same kind of doctor, tending to all manner of care in less-than-optimum circumstances.
    At the hospital, he was performing general practice anesthesia, using an open drop method, where ether or chloroform was given to patients who inhaled it through a mask and usually experienced post-operative nausea and vomiting. Better anesthetic drugs were to come in the next decade, but it was the training of specialists that he saw as vitally needed, especially when he heard about advances being made in the United States and the U.K.
    He decided to apply for anesthesia residency and chose the Mayo Clinic both because of its reputation and the fact that two of his former classmates had become medical residents there. He was accepted for postgraduate training and in 1954 became part of its large contingent of Canadians.
    He was exposed to exciting advances being made to support open-heart surgery. Some hospitals were experimenting with surface hypothermia, putting the body into a state of hibernation, while others were hooking up a family member to receive blood from the patient and return it oxygenated. But a machine called a pump-oxygenator would win out.
    "There was a lot of trial and error. It was a tense and exciting business," said Alan Sessler, a colleague now retired from Mayo.
    In 1955, the first successful series of open-heart surgeries in children with congenital cardiac defects began at Mayo, using the pump-oxygenator. For his 1956 master's thesis, Moffitt documented 45 of the first patients, measuring, among other things, blood flow, as well as oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.
    He arrived just before the departure of department head J.S. Lundy, who first introduced sodium pentothal to anesthesia, and worked closely with many other lions of the era, including surgeon John Kirklin, who was responsible for bringing the heart-lung machine into routine use, and a young physiologist, Jeremy Swan, who would later co-invent the Swan-Ganz catheter, which improved a surgeon's ability to monitor a patient's blood flow.
    In 1957, Moffitt was brought on staff and became the go-to guy to provide information to his team on the effects of such an extreme trespass on the body. Three years later, he won a fellowship that allowed him to travel to six European cardiac surgery centres, bringing back that knowledge to Mayo and in turn presenting talks internationally about the work being done in the U.S. By 1966, he was head of anesthesiology at St. Mary's Hospital, the larger of the Mayo's two teaching hospitals. Between 1957 and when he left in 1972, he had produced 75 peer-reviewed publications.
    "He laid down some foundations of the heart's response to all our anesthetic medicine and gases," said Adam Jacob, who, at the Mayo in 2007, gave a presentation of Moffitt's contribution.
    Despite the significant successes, his resignation letter hints of a bitterness, as he appears frustrated by not being able to rise further in the organization. "Professionally at the Mayo, I feel I have gone as far as possible in my areas," he writes. "Here, a challenge no longer remains."
    If he was looking for a challenge, it could certainly be found in Nova Scotia in the early 1970s: The province had little anesthesia being taught and no specialists in the regions. For Dalhousie and the Victoria General, where he was welcomed back, he recruited anesthetists to teach and got operating-room staff to help collect research. He overhauled cardiac surgery and established other new units, namely cardiac intensive care and pediatric cardiac surgery.
    "It was a new era and a new department," said Thomas Coonan, a professor in the Departments of Anesthesiology and Surgery at Dalhousie, who was recruited by Moffitt in 1975 from Montreal.
    In 1976-77, Moffitt chaired an advisory committee on anesthesia for the Nova Scotia Department of Health, which led to the first provincial guidelines for the practice of anesthesia in Canada. It was emulated across the country.
    In 1980, he spent six months on sabbatical at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles to work with his old colleague Jeremy Swan on the Swan-Ganz catheter.
    Despite his increased administrative roles, he continuously researched, working, for example, to better understand how to preserve the fragile oxygen supply to the heart during and after surgery, part of a 10-year grant from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia.
    No description of his life can leave out his incorrigible need to offer up puns. "Always another pun in the oven," he said as emcee of a medical variety show that overflowed with groaners. In a recent letter about it, he signed off as a "retired corn producer."
    His second wife, Phyllis Redden, died in 1987, and in 1989 he married a nurse, once again. Isabel Vibert was the widow of Jim, one of his buddies who had been a resident at Mayo and whose presence there helped convince him to make that life-changing move.
    He retired in 1991 and remained in Halifax. In the last couple of years, he began to suffer from Alzheimer's disease.
    He leaves Isabel, his children Eric, Celene and Laurie, and five grandchildren.  [2
    Submitter 855 
    Obituary MOFFITT, DR. EMERSON AMOS – Dr. Emerson Amos Moffitt, 86, passed away peacefully after a period of failing health. Dr. Moffitt was born in Harvey, NB on September 9, 1924 and grew up in nearby McAdam. He was the son of Selena and Amos Moffitt, and brother of Ruby and Eugene, all of whom predeceased him. He was also predeceased by his wives, Helen and Phyllis. In 1938 Emerson received the Lt. Governor’s medal for highest marks in high school entrance exams, and graduated from McAdam High School with the same medal for highest academic standing. He attended UNB for three years, earning athletic letters in soccer, basketball and hockey. In 1944 he served in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy as a pilot. He graduated from Dalhousie University medical school in 1951 and worked as a general practitioner in North Sydney, NS until 1953. At that time, Dr. Moffitt went to work at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, specializing in cardiac anesthesia. During the 1950’s he was part of a medical team who pioneered open heart surgery and during his 20 years at the Mayo Clinic performed dozens of open heart surgeries, conducted 75 studies on cardiac patients, and delivered over a hundred medical presentations in the US, Canada and Europe. In 1972 Dr. Moffitt returned to Dalhousie University to become the head of Anesthesia for five hospitals in Halifax and Saint John, where he also oversaw training and clinical research. Emerson was also the Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs at Dalhousie from 1980-86. Between 1990 and 1991 he was involved in almost half of all open heart surgeries at the Victoria General hospital in Halifax. In his career, Dr. Moffitt had a total of 224 cardiac studies published, and over 255 medical presentations worldwide. Emerson retired in 1991 and spent his time running a senior’s golf group called GASPERs, at Ashburn Country Club and traveling, especially back to his beloved New Brunswick towns of Harvey and McAdam. He will be fondly remembered by family and friends, especially, his wife Isabel and her children and grandchildren, his son Eric and grandsons Trevor and Barclay, his daughter Celene Lyon, her husband Geof and their kids Heather and Lee, his daughter Laurie Moffitt Barr, her husband Mike and their daughter Vanessa. Special recognition of his “Harvey family”, Velma Moffitt and her children Deborah, Amos, Dale, Patricia and Mabel ; also Peter and Margaret Annis from Moores Mills, NB.
    The funeral will be held at Bethany United Church, 7171 Clinton Ave, Halifax at 2:00 pm May 9, 2011. A reception will follow. There will be no visitation or graveside service. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Emerson Moffitt Research Award, care of Dalhousie University.  [3
    Obituary MOFFITT, Dr. Emerson Amos - 86, has died peacefully after a period of failing health. Dr. Moffitt was born on September 9, 1924 in Harvey, N.B. He was served in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy as a pilot during World War II, and following that he completed college at the University New Brunswick. Emerson went on to complete medical school at Dalhousie University and worked for several years as a General Practitioner in North Sydney. In 1954 he went to work for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in the specialized field of cardiac anaesthesia. He was part of a medical team which pioneered open heart surgery incorporating a radical new pump oxygenator. Dr. Moffitt went on to work on dozens of open heart surgeries and published 75 studies on cardiac patients. In 1972, he moved back to Dalhousie University Medical School as head of the anaesthesia department overseeing five Halifax and Saint John, NB hospitals. From 1980-86 he also served as Associate Dean of Clinical Affairs. At Dalhousie, Dr. Moffitt from 1957-1991 he had 224 career publications and made 255 presentations worldwide. Upon retiring in 1991, Emerson organized a senior's golf group called GASPERS at Ashburn Country Club. He also spent much of his life enjoying snow skiing and travelling. Dr. Moffitt is pre-deceased by his first two wives, Helen & Phyllis, his sister Ruby & brother Eugene, and his grand daughter, Elizabeth Akerman. Family members who will remember him fondly: his wife, Isabel Moffitt, Eric, Trevor & Barclay Moffitt, Roxanne Pignanelli, Celene, Geof, Heather & Lee Lyon, Laurie, Mike & Vanessa Barr, Jim, Emma & Jimmy Vibert, Kim MacDonald, Ann Vibert & Glynis Ross, Marjorie, Bert, Katherine & Michael Akerman, Elizabeth & Will Vibert, Todd & Isla Hatfield, Mary Vibert, Doug, Isabella & Abebe Brown, Velma Moffitt, Peter & Margaret Annis. The funeral service will be held at Bethany United Church, Monday at 2:00 pm, 7171 Clinton Ave. Halifax. In lieu of flowers, send donations to the Emerson Moffitt Scholarship Award, care of Dalhousie University. Please visit  [4
    Died 30 April 2011  Halifax, Halifax Co., Nova Scotia, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [4
    • Notified Deceased by eMail from Laurie Moffitt Barr 14 April 2012
    Person ID I9548  Clan Moffat Genealogy
    Last Modified 18 August 2012 

    Father Amos Alexander Moffitt,   b. 26 August 1896, Harvey Station, York Co., New Brunswick, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 5 March 1952, McAdam, York Co., New Brunswick, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 55 years) 
    Mother Ellen Selena Wilson,   b. 10 May 1893, Harvey Station, York Co., New Brunswick, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 6 December 1966, Saint John Hospital, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 73 years) 
    Family ID F5020  Family Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family/Spouse 1 Helen Gertrude Macdonald,   b. 7 December 1927,   d. 30 March 1971  (Age 43 years) 
    Married 19 May 1951 
    +1. Living
    +2. Living
     3. Living
    Family ID F5073  Family Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family/Spouse 2 Phyllis Isabelle Redden,   b. 27 July 1930,   d. 18 August 1987  (Age 57 years) 
    Married 25 April 1973 
    Family ID F5072  Family Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family/Spouse 3 Living 
    Family ID F5071  Family Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Notes 
    • OCCUPATION: Medical Doctor
      MAIL ADDRESS: 2 Turnberry Ln, Halifax, NS B3M4E6, Canada
      MILITARY: Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm 1944-1945

  • Sources 
    1. [S1] Original Moffat GEDCOM File, Robert and Frances Moffitt.

    2. [S2609] Article titled “Anesthetist championed new techniques to aid cardiac surgery in Canada”, Philip Fine.

    3. [S2608] Obituary published on website of

    4. [S2610] Obituary published on website of J A Snow Funeral Home, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

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