Chapter 08: The Head & Neck Department, its Leadership and Politics

Title

Chapter 08: The Head & Neck Department, its Leadership and Politics

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Description

Dr. Byers recalls the doctors considered to succeed Dr. Richard Jesse as Department Chief of the Head & Neck Surgery, the appointment of Dr. Helmuth Goepfert to that position, the arrival of Dr. Raphael Pollock who became Head of Surgery, and politics within the institution throughout that period.

Identifier

ByersR_01_2019014_C08

Publication Date

10-14-2019

Publisher

The Historical Resources Center, The Research Medical Library, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

Critical Evaluation; Growth and/or Change; Institutional Politics; Critical Perspectives

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History | Surgery

Transcript

Charles Balch, MD

Even ordering surgical instruments. Lee Clark had to sign off on it.

Robert Byers, MD

I think so, I wasn’t privy at that time. But I imagine.

Charles Balch, MD

Any other recollections of Ed White? Because he actually was part of the foundation of the General Surgery Department and came even before Dick Martin.

Robert Byers, MD

I would say he was so overshadowed by Clark. But I really can’t address that from a personal standpoint. I was in training. I was low man on the totem pole. Wasn’t privy to whatever was going on in the hierarchy. I would just say relatively speaking since I never operated with Clark, never assisted him, none of us had, just his rep was unbelievable. Just his persona was unbelievable. White, not so much. He was a wonderful trooper. If you go, “Charge that wall,” he’ll charge it.

Charles Balch, MD

Let me go back if I could to the Head and Neck Department and ask you about Helmuth Goepfert, Oscar Guillamondegui, Jay Ballantyne, just your synopsis of them as individuals that you worked with in your department.

Robert Byers, MD

I would love to express that because I think it’s been somewhat tarnished in the sense that when Helmuth—you had dealings with Helmuth, when you came and he came, I never will forget.

Charles Balch, MD

We had some political differences.

Robert Byers, MD

Quite an animosity, to be honest there.

Charles Balch, MD

I think we’ve settled that now.

Robert Byers, MD

Well, if you’ve settled it now that’s wonderful. But during the times we’re talking about—we’re talking about those times—there was a lot of dissension in the ranks. And I will say this, that when the chairmanship came up for who was going to succeed Jesse the discussion was between Oscar and I and Helmuth. And I think Dick Martin upset Oscar and I. He said Helmuth, Dick Martin. And he came to—

Charles Balch, MD

And he would be saying that to Lee Clark who would make the appointments? He would be saying that to Lee Clark, who made the appointments?

Robert Byers, MD

Not then, I don’t think so. I don’t think Clark was in—

Charles Balch, MD

Who made the decision about Helmuth?

Robert Byers, MD

I think it seemed to me that Dick Jesse favored Oscar and I or one of us. I think the guy that was there, I’ve forgotten the guy, got assassinated, you remember him?

Charles Balch, MD

Yes, I’ll think of his name in a minute.

Robert Byers, MD

He was in his office and was gunned down.

Charles Balch, MD

Yes, he was the vice president then.

Robert Byers, MD

Right. He favored Oscar and I. But Dick Martin said, “No, we need an ENT influence in this department. You and Oscar stay there, please, stay there.” But Dick Martin thought that Goepfert would be a better mix because he traveled to ENT. Remember we talked, Jesse was saying ENT was going to take over general surgery. In head and neck now, not everywhere.

Charles Balch, MD

Yes, I understand.

Robert Byers, MD

So that was the mantra then. So Goepfert got the chairmanship, and it wasn’t long then after he got it that Jesse had his problem with his bleeding and all that. Also Goepfert was I think head of ENT at University of Texas at Hermann.

Charles Balch, MD

Yes, with Bobby Alford.

Robert Byers, MD

Bobby Alford recommended him highly. He was over there with—I think the general surgeon was—geez, his name—

Charles Balch, MD

It was Charlie somebody.

Robert Byers, MD

[Redacted] The guy who was treating with—

Charles Balch, MD

Yeah, who worked with Ted Copeland.

Robert Byers, MD

Stanley or something. Stan something, Dudrick, Stan Dudrick.

Charles Balch, MD

Stan Dudrick, exactly.

Robert Byers, MD

He was the general surgeon head there with Goepfert, they didn’t get along either. So Goepfert said, “Oh, if I got an opportunity to get out of here as chairman of the ENT there, I’m going to go to Anderson.” And he wanted that job too. So it all fit. He made the transition to Anderson. So I would say the relationship I had with Oscar was beyond friends. We were close, close. And Helmuth I think sort of tried to drive a wedge between us somehow. He tried. He didn’t like it that it was two against one. Not that—that’s not exactly the way it is. So Helmuth had a problem, and I think he would have loved to have had us both leave so he could get his own. It’s kind of hard I’m sure for him to work in that situation. Helmuth I think was anxious to—I hate to say this—get rid of you too.

Charles Balch, MD

Oh yes, I know.

Robert Byers, MD

There was a lot of dissension in the institution during that period of time.

Robert Byers, MD

Just for the record, I think Helmuth was another candidate to be the head of surgery, which I got. But after I left, John Mendelsohn appointed him at least on an interim basis as the head of surgery, and then Raph Pollock became the head of surgery after that.

Robert Byers, MD

Exactly, and that was a relief to I think everybody. That Raph came. Raph was awesome in general surgery. I think he kept it going in general surgery with SSO and everybody nationally, politically, and everything. And then he got in kind of a brouhaha with Mendelsohn, and that was very unfortunate. I really felt—

Charles Balch, MD

Was it with Mendelsohn or Ron DePinho?

Robert Byers, MD

I’m not sure.

Charles Balch, MD

I think it was with Ron DePinho who wanted him to do more generating cases.

Robert Byers, MD

It was DePinho, it was not Mendelsohn, it was DePinho. That’s right.

Charles Balch, MD

Even if it was a sacrifice of their academic time. Raph said, “No, I’m standing up for the faculty.”

Robert Byers, MD

He got almost bankrupt I think this institution.

Chapter 08: The Head & Neck Department, its Leadership and Politics

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