MUSC Honors Three New Endowed Chairs in Cardiothoracic Surgery

from left to right: Lucian Lozonschi, M.D., Prabhakar Baliga, M.D., Fred Crawford, M.D., Marc R. Katz, M.D., MPH, and Chad Denlinger, M.D.

Chadrick Denlinger, M.D., Marc R. Katz, M.D., MPH, and Lucian Lozonschi, M.D., all newly named endowed chairs in the division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, were honored during an investiture ceremony and dinner in the presence of more than 100 family members, friends, colleagues, and donors at the Country Club of Charleston, on Saturday October 12, 2019.

Prabhakar Baliga, M.D. chair of the Department of Surgery recognized these three honorees as superb servants to our medical community, broadening the scope and level of care through their innovation and expertise in minimally invasive and robotic approaches to complex surgeries. “The level of skill these three newly-named Endowed Chairs bring to our community and our institution is immeasurable,” said Dr. Baliga. “Their innovative minds, collaborative approaches, and leading-edge research is changing what’s possible in Cardiothoracic Surgery.”

Chadrick Denlinger, M.D. is the inaugural Flora McLeod Edwards Distinguished Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, Professor of Surgery and Surgical Director of the Lung Transplant Program at MUSC. He has grown the thoracic surgery program at MUSC through his minimally invasive approaches and serves as a resource to our community through outreach programs in Murrell’s Inlet and Beaufort, impacting cancer care in those communities. His reputation has grown so significantly in the community that the volume of thoracic surgery has increased by nearly 90% in the past four years.

Dr. Denlinger focuses his clinical interest in thoracic surgical oncology and dedicates his research efforts primarily on models derived from tumors and cells taken directly from patients rather than on tissue culture models.  Through his efforts, MUSC has participated in the Lung Cancer Biospecimen Resource Network (LCBRN), a project sponsored by the Department of Defense and  selected to participate in the Cancer Moonshot Program. These efforts will help advance the LCBRN’s endeavors to understand the effect of gene mutation or gene expression in cancer recurrence.

Marc R. Katz, M.D., MPH is the Fred A. Crawford, Jr. M.D. Endowed Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery, Professor and Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Associate Director, Heart and Vascular Integrated Center of Clinical Excellence, and Co-Director, South Carolina Heart Valve Center. Dr. Katz is the first person to be named to this chair.

During his career in adult cardiac surgery, he performed the first combined heart - kidney transplant in the eastern U.S., the first left ventricular assist device in Virginia, and has been a pioneer in minimally invasive and robotic heart surgery. He is recognized for his expertise by serving on the Society for Thoracic Surgery (STS) robotic surgery task force and teaching the STS robotic heart surgery symposium. He has been honored by membership in the American Association for Thoracic Surgery. During his free time, he serves a global community by participating in mission trips to the Dominican Republic. 

Lucian Lozonschi, M.D. is the inaugural Endowed Chair in Advanced Heart Failure Surgery, Professor of Surgery and Director of Surgical Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplantation.

Upon joining MUSC in 2017, Lozonschi started implanting LVADs using a sternal sparing approach via two small thoracotomy incisions thus bringing MUSC into a small elite group of centers that performs this procedure nationally. Under his leadership both heart transplant and mechanical assist device programs that have achieved ultimate outcomes. 

So far at MUSC, he has performed over 35 robotic assisted CABG procedures, the majority of them as part of a hybrid revascularization strategy. He and Dr. Marc Katz, an expert in robotic mitral valve surgery,  provide MUSC patients a wide range of minimally invasive cardiac surgery options that are offered at only very few institutions in the US.

In his opening comments, Dr. Baliga acknowledged the significant contributions of Fred Crawford, M.D., Distinguished University Professor and Chair Emeritus.  “This evening would not have been possible without someone who has strong leadership qualities; someone who built the strong foundation for the program to succeed,” Baliga said. “This legacy belongs to none other than Fred Crawford.” The recognition drew  a round of applause and a standing ovation from the audience in honor of Dr. Crawford’s significant contributions to MUSC, the community and the field of cardiothoracic surgery.    

Dr. Baliga also acknowledged the many other surgical leaders who have worked behind the scenes to advance the division as well as the countless philanthropic donors that have made the opportunity to present these distinguished faculty members with their Endowed Chairs.

Throughout the evening, the three honorees shared their journeys, thanking their families, mentors and leaders for their support and recognizing the generous donors who made the steadfast commitment to achieve optimal patient outcomes through their philanthropic efforts. 

“Opportunity is defined as a set of circumstances that gives you a chance to do something,” said Marc Katz, M.D. in his opening comments. “While driving on Route 6 in rural Virginia, I received a call from Dr. Baliga asking me if I’d be willing to come help out for a period of time. I always knew about MUSC and Fred Crawford’s work and I considered that request to be an incredible honor. Joining MUSC is the best decision I ever made.”

“I am delighted that Marc Katz is the first recipient of the Crawford Endowed Chair,” said Fred Crawford, M.D. “Since his arrival, our clinical volume has grown, the cardiothoracic residency program is thriving, and I believe the cardiothoracic program is in good hands for the future.”

Dr. Katz credits the infrastructure and hard work of his predecessors, plus the support of current leadership that has allowed the program to grow – not only in number of cases, but in the level of difficulty in those cases. And, because of the infrastructure and strong foundation, the division is able to more innovative surgeries and help more patients. “So, I take my hat off to all of you who have contributed to this effort for your hard work, your donations and your support,” said Katz. “I give you my word that we will continue to grow this program and make it more innovative as we plan for it to be recognized as the world-wide preeminent program.”

Dr. Katz expressed gratitude towards his family. “To Samantha, my parents, sister, brother and my three children who have altered their lives multiple times to accommodate me and my schedule to support the academic endeavors that are advancing the field of CT Surgery,” he said.

Teamwork and collaboration was another common theme throughout the evening. “None of us really work in a vacuum, whether it’s patient care or research – somebody is always a part of your team, pushing you to make you the best clinician, the best researcher,” said Chad Denlinger, M.D. “I’m happy to share this night with my team.”

Denlinger also acknowledged his parents for making him the person he is, and his wife and children, for their endless support and understanding that allow him to take care of cancer patients, like Barbara Graves. Ms. Graves shared her story and expressed deep gratitude to Dr. Denlinger for saving her life and providing an excellent quality of life. Her prognosis was not good, she said. She sought advice from a highly-regarded surgeon in Houston, who said that he’d have to remove her entire lung and, if she survived, she’d be on oxygen the rest of her life. She was devastated. But then, after consulting with Dr. Denlinger, she had renewed hope. “From day one, Dr. Denlinger filled me with encouragement, saying he was confident the surgical approach he recommended was the best option. It’s now five years later, I am cancer free and back to all of my activities. I am most grateful to Dr. Denlinger – he truly changed the course of my history.”

Lucian Lozonschi, M.D. added depth to a surgeon’s journey by sharing his story. After thanking the leadership who supported the award for him, he said that this type of award is a dream academic surgeons aspire to achieve. He said he was extremely grateful and thanked his many mentors throughout his academic career.

His journey began in Romania, where his father was a college professor under communist rule. He recalls sitting at the dinner table as a teenager and his father discussing with him some of his ideas on renewable energy. “Those ideas ended up as intellectual property for him that didn’t result to much in communist Romania, but it was great work and he inspired me to want to be a university professor,” he said. He also said his mother was an attorney who was fearless, sincere and authentic and instilled in him that hard work will get you to great places.

“I’d like to thank my wife – my sweetheart and life coach – who imagined a future full of possibilities, he said.  “We were 15 year olds strolling through the streets of communist Romania, dreaming of our future and making concrete plans to achieve our goals. And now we are here, achieving them.” He also thanked his children for their unique questions that keep his feet on the ground and head in the clouds.

“I’d also like to say I’m so proud to work with an extremely collaborative cardiology group,” he commented. “They are probably the best group in the country to work with and have helped me be so successful in such a short period of time.”

These Endowed Chairs also pay tribute to those for whom they are named – providing a lasting homage to exceptional individuals whether by recognizing one’s lifelong professional contributions, honoring the legacy of a loved one or - in anonymity - ensuring support for innovative research that will make a difference in the lives of future patients.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, there are the countless individuals whose lives are transformed because of the existence of an endowed chair: students, residents, staff, community members, volunteers – and our patients –  all lives forever touched because of the innovative research and clinical care these chairs help fund.