In Memoriam – Warren M. Zapol

Posted by
Blog - In Memoriam – Warren M. Zapol

We are deeply saddened to share the news that Warren M. Zapol, M.D., 79, Massachusetts General Hospital Emeritus Anesthetist-in-Chief (1994 to 2008), and the Reginald Jenney Distinguished Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School, passed away December 14th, 2021. Dr. Zapol was an international recognized visionary, explorer, and inventor. He is probably best known for having demonstrated that inhaled nitric oxide is a selective pulmonary vasodilator, a discovery that has positively shaped the course of modern medicine and helped save innumerable lives. During his extraordinary career, he led laboratory and clinical programs in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, acute respiratory distress syndrome, pulmonary physiology, and expeditions to Antarctica. He was generous and kind with his time, mentorship, and guidance.

What is less known is Dr. Zapol’s influence on healthcare simulation via his involvement as a Trustee and supporter of the Center for Medical Simulation during its formative years. While simulation wasn’t directly on his list of priorities when he started out as chair, he knew a good thing when he saw it. He was instrumental in providing support for CMS via its programs for Crisis Resource Management for residents and later for enabling programs for attending anesthesiologists via his support for the mandate to require ACRM training for lower malpractice premiums from the Harvard Medical School captive insurance company, CRICO. He helped boost the career of CMS’s first Executive Director, Jeff Cooper, and also helped kick off the simulation career of the current ED Jenny Rudolph’s by lending pivotal support in her getting a research grant that supported her PhD research.

The most crucial thing that Dr. Zapol may have done is an apocryphal story with lessons for leaders, the kind of story that normally doesn’t see the light of day, but Dan Raemer says I can tell it: At the turn of the last century, Dan had just about accepted an offer for a much better paying job with a company. He was at the time having to fund the education of several family members at once. I couldn’t see how it was possible to adjust his salary to compete, even if CMS could afford it, which I didn’t think we could. I told Warren. He said, “have Dan come see me.” He heard Dan’s story. He told him “you were born to be a teacher.” He asked him how much would it take to support the educational expenses. Dan gave him a number. Warren offered for CMS to pay for it over 3 years. Dan accepted. I had no clue how we’d pay for it, but somehow, we did. CMS survived and prospered. Without Dan, I don’t know how that would have been possible. Thank you, Warren.

Along with all of members of the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, of which almost all of us at CMS ourselves are members, we extend our sympathy to Dr. Zapol’s wife, Nikki, his two children Liza and David, his extended family and friends.