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A scholar's mind and a physician's heart
Medical journal clelebrates Dr. Nyhus' half-century of care, research
The medical profession is celebrating 50 years of contributions to the field by Dr. Lloyd Nyhus '45, gastric surgeon, scholar and respected author at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Nyhus is renowned for his pioneering work in gastric surgery, his leadership in surgery in the US and internationally, and for writing nearly 100 books. He has devoted much of the past half-century to understanding the problems of the human digestive system, and has thoroughly studied ailments such as duodenal ulcers and groin hernias.

For accomplishments such as these, Nyhus was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus by PLU in 1968. The University of Washington bestowed the same honor on him in 1993.

Nyhus' lifetime of dedication and inspiration was celebrated in last July's issue of the American Journal of Surgery. The entire issue was a festschrift, a celebration, dedicated to Nyhus' writings and achievements.

Widely respected, his scientific work and textbooks are familiar to almost all living surgeons. "His influence can now be observed over an entire spectrum of topics and several generations of academic surgeons," wrote his former students Phillip Donahue and Raymond Pollak in the journal's introductory article.

"His undergraduate degree, from Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland, Wash., was the vehicle by which he began to focus on the healing arts as a life's work," they also wrote.

The early years

Nyhus is a native Washingtonian. His parents came to Parkland in 1913 when his father took a job as principal at a Lutheran parochial school, and Nyhus was born 10 years later. The family moved to Sioux Falls, S.D., and then to Mt. Vernon, Wash., during Nyhus' childhood.

Including Pacific Lutheran College in his higher education plans seemed natural. Not only was he familiar with the neighborhood, but his mother, Mary Shervem, earned her high school diploma from the school when it was Pacific Lutheran Academy.

Nyhus attended PLC for one year, graduating in 1945 amidst World War II. He earned a biology/pre-med degree from PLC that combined three years of undergraduate education and his first year of medical school at the University of Alabama, he said.

Since his medical school training was supported by the Navy, Nyhus served as a medical officer in a naval hospital in San Francisco during the Korean War, and on the naval cruiser "Qunicy," the only ship in the Navy with an elevator, designed especially for President Roosevelt, Nyhus proudly pointed out.

After the war, he returned to the Northwest for surgical training at the University of Washington. While learning surgery, Nyhus was recognized for his hard work and academic skills, and was asked if he would like to venture into research. He took several years off to do research under Henry Harkins, the first professor of surgery at UW and someone who changed the focus of academic surgery in the state.

It was Harkins' ability to take clinical problems, complications he saw in surgery, and draw ideas to investigate in the laboratory from them, that set the path for Nyhus' own future. Since Harkins' specialty was ulcers, Nyhus also developed that focus.

Stuff of the stomach:
ulcers and hernias

Together, Harkins and Nyhus explored the complications of duodenal ulcers, ulcers that form in the digestive tract just below the stomach. The pair became well known for a series of studies on ulcer surgery. Over 15 years, their work helped define the operation of vagotomy-antrectomy (the disruption of a gastric nerve in order to decrease stomach acid secretion and control an ulcer) as the 'gold standard' by which all duodenal ulcer treatments would be judged subsequently.

At that same time, Harkins and Nyhus wrote "Surgery of the Stomach and Duodenum," a textbook that was published in its fifth edition in 1995. The work was one of Nyhus' first books; to date he has written over 94. "I'll quit when I've written 100," he said, chuckling.

Nyhus also became an expert in hernias while at the UW. According to the festschrift article, his textbook "Hernia," (now in its fourth edition), is one the world's best known and used.

A pioneering spirit

In 1967, the University of Illinois at Chicago recruited Nyhus to be chair of surgery. In that position, he made great changes to the department and founded the Living Institute for Surgical Studies. Recognizing that the modern surgeon would have to develop more specific skills than a generation of previous surgeons, Nyhus fostered and encouraged the evolution of strong subspecialty groups in general surgery. He led the school to develop special divisions in transplantation, trauma, vascular surgery and surgical critical care, among others.

"Now," Nyhus said, "we are almost at the end of trying to segment surgery. The splitting has slowed down, and schools are learning to watch over the whole spectrum of surgeries."

A scholar-surgeon

Nyhus also served as an inspiration to residents in training at the university who wanted to explore the relation between surgery and the lab. He was becoming widely known for carving a niche where the seemingly distant cousins of research and practical application could come together.

Working back and forth between lab and patient over his years of study, Nyhus has been able to take a problem witnessed during surgery to the lab, and possible answers found in the lab back to surgery. He has enjoyed this combination of scholar and surgeon. "You not only do regular care of patients, but because of research, you know what's best for the patient, integrating what's new in the field," he said.

Furthermore, Nyhus has shared his ideas on surgery as a strong leader on both the national and international scene. He has served as president of half a dozen leading surgical societies in the United States, and founded the International Society of Surgery Foundation, to gain philanthropic support of surgical research, in 1993.

Information from "Nyhus' Half Century of Surgery" by Philip Donahue, MD, and Raymond Pollak, MB, in the July 1996 issue of the American Journal of Surgery contributed to this article.

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Source: Pacific Lutheran Scene, Summer 1997
Edited by: Linda Elliott, Summer Senior Editor (elliotlm@plu.edu)
Maintained by: Webmaster (webmaster@plu.edu).
Last Update: 07/17/97