John Kratz MD receives South Carolina’s highest honor

Lauren Hooker
March 28, 2023
Dr Cole and Nancy Mace present award to Dr Kratz
MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D. and Rep. Nancy Mace present the Order of the Palmetto to John M. Kratz, M.D.

Gov. Henry McMaster has awarded the Order of the Palmetto to John M. Kratz, M.D., Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at the Medical University of South Carolina. The award is the highest civilian honor awarded to citizens of South Carolina for their extraordinary lifetime service and achievements. 

Since joining MUSC in 1979, Kratz has played an integral part in the growth and recognition MUSC has achieved. In 1993, he led the effort to develop an onsite cardiac-surgical program through an agreement with the Grand Strand Hospital in Myrtle Beach. Staffed and run by the MUSC Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, the program was the first of many efforts to work with underserved South Carolina communities. In 2004, early in his clinical practice, he pioneered off-pump coronary bypass surgery at MUSC. In addition to these remarkable efforts Kratz is widely recognized in the field of cardiothoracic surgery as an expert in pacemakers and pacemaker lead extraction.

Over the years, he has served in many leadership roles on many national and regional committees, including chairman of the Membership Committee for the Southern Thoracic Surgical Association and as both vice president and president of the South Carolina Thoracic Society. He served on the planning committee for the South Atlantic Cardiovascular Society and steering committee for the Tri-State Lung Association. He is a member of many prestigious cardiothoracic societies and associations, including the American Association for Thoracic Surgery and the Society of Thoracic Surgery. 

MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., introduced U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace  to present the award on behalf of Gov. McMaster during Kratz’ retirement dinner on Saturday, March 25, at the Carolina Yacht Club. “Dr. Kratz has been remarkable in his service to health care delivery, research and education. He’s earned the recognition and celebration inherent to what is represented by the Order of Palmetto,” Cole said. “It is my honor and my pleasure to introduce Congresswoman Nancy Mace, who will present the Order of the Palmetto to Dr. Kratz,” Cole said to a cheering crowd of family, friends and colleagues of Kratz.

Mace thanked Kratz for his 50 years of service to the state of South Carolina, recognizing his deep commitment to research, education and clinical care that has helped to transform the field of cardiothoracic surgery. On behalf of Gov. McMaster, she then presented Kratz with the Order of the Palmetto. 

The Lee's with Dr Kratz 
Tony Lee, M.D. (far right) and his wife traveled from L.A. Dr. Lee was Dr. Kratz' first trainee.

The evening was filled with heartfelt tributes, much laughter and expressions of gratitude, serving as a celebration of Kratz’ lifelong contributions to the field of surgery. 

Cole recognized Kratz' significant contributions, noting that fifty years ago, he was pivotal in creating a cardiothoracic surgery program, along with Fred A. Crawford Jr. M.D., who served as division chief in 1979 and served as chairman of the department from 1988 - 2007. The program, he explained, has had a tremendous impact on shaping the future of cardiothoracic surgery at MUSC and throughout South Carolina.

“You have the heart of an innovator along with the talent and tenacity to get things done,” said Cole, adding, “That’s also how someone builds an aircraft in their garage, flies it and lives to tell about it.”

Kratz’ passion for flying aircraft has been transformative to patient care in South Carolina. He is a licensed FAA single engine land private pilot. He was appointed the medical director of the MUSC MEDUCARE program when it launched in 1987 and served as the chairman of the MUSC MEDUCARE Executive Transport Committee from 1990 to 1996. From 1994 to 2004, he was designated a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) medical examiner, serving the FAA and the flying community by medically certifying pilots.

On a more personal note, transplant surgeon and Chair of the Department of Surgery Prabhakar Baliga, M.D., expressed gratitude for Kratz’ services in establishing safe transportation for all organ donations. Baliga recognized the significant safety measures Kratz ensured for his team, during organ procurement flights – often occurring in the middle of the night under less-than-ideal conditions. 

In addition to receiving the highest honor in the state and in recognition of his many contributions to the field of surgery, in 2022, Baliga announced that MUSC and the Department of Surgery honored Kratz with an endowed chair in his name. Endowed chairs are the highest award a university can bestow upon a faculty member, paying tribute to those for whom they are named for their remarkable contributions to their respective fields. During the dinner, Baliga recognized Arman Kilic, M.D., who is the inaugural chairholder of the John M. Kratz, M.D. Endowed Chair in Cardiac Surgery and Research.

During his comments at the dinner, Crawford shared that equally important to Kratz’ surgical expertise and innovative spirit has been his commitment to the department’s academic program, where he’s been a role model to countless academic surgeons and trainees. Throughout his career, Kratz has changed many lives – not only through the surgeries he has performed and the lives he has saved – but also through his dedication to the education and mentorship of cardiothoracic surgery residents, many of whom traveled great distances to honor him during his retirement dinner. Kratz’ legacy clearly continues through the residents he trained. During the many heartfelt tributes from those who trained under him, a recurrent theme was gratitude for his teachings to keep things simple – a concept many say resonates with them daily, especially during complex surgeries.

group at dinner 
Surgeons who trained under Dr. Kratz traveled across from across the country to honor Dr. Kratz during the celebratory dinner. (from left to right:  Walter Denino, M.D., Tom Theravath, M.D., Tony Lee, M.D., Barry Davis, M.D., John Kratz, M.D., Jack Crumbley, M.D., Fred A. Crawford, Jr., M.D., and Jim Zellner, M.D.)

To honor Kratz and his legacy as a passionate surgical educator, Marc R. Katz, M.D., MPH, chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, announced that the division will be establishing the John M. Kratz, M.D. Cardiothoracic Surgery Academic Enrichment Fund. 

“In light of all John has done to advance the field of cardiothoracic surgery through training the next generation of CT surgeons, this fund will continue his legacy by paying tribute and further supporting the highest quality of patient care through the continuation of education and research, especially for our residents’ research projects,” Katz said. After a round of applause, he welcomed Kratz to the podium.

On the impact of educating the next generation of surgeons, Kratz said, “As cardiothoracic surgeons, we celebrate when our patients get well, but when we train residents and send them out in the world to take care of thousands of patients, that’s really the true reward to us as attendings.”

Kratz recognized all of the people on the team – those who have made his work possible. “Each of you in this room in some way represents those people that have helped me through my career, and I thank you,” said Kratz. “And a special thanks to all the patients who have trusted me with their lives. Finally, a deep expression of gratitude to my three sons and to my wife, Shirley, who has made it all possible by taking care of our family when I operated and supporting me throughout my career. Thank you all very much.”

Dr Kratz with his wife and children 
Dr. Kratz, center, with his wife, Shirley, celebrate with their three sons and two daughter-in-laws during the dinner. (from left to right:  Mr. Michael Kratz, Mrs. Ellen Kratz, Mrs. Shirley Kratz, Dr. John M. Kratz, Mrs. Colleen Kratz, Mr. Martin Kratz, Mr. David Kratz.)