Dr. John Ochsner, Louisiana's pioneering heart surgeon, dies at 91

John L. Ochsner Sr., MD, a pioneering surgeon who performed the first heart transplant in Louisiana, has died at age 91, according to The Times Picayune.

Dr. Ochsner passed away the morning of July 6 at New Orleans-based Ochsner Medical Center due to influenza complications. His father, Alton Ochsner, MD, was one of the health system's founders.

Born in New Orleans in 1927, Dr. Ochsner earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Tulane University in New Orleans. He completed his surgical residency under the prominent cardiac surgeon Michael E. DeBakey, MD, and in 2000 received the Michael E. DeBakey Surgical Award in recognition of his career. Dr. Ochsner also served as the surgical resident at Waco-based Baylor University and Texas Children's Hospitals in Houston, taught at Tulane University School of Medicine and held various leadership positions for the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, the International Society for Cardiovascular Surgery and the American Board of Thoracic Surgery. 

Dr. Ochsner performed about 12,000 operations during his nearly 60-year career, including the first heart transplant in Louisiana in 1970, when the heart transplant field was still in its infancy. Dr. Ochsner also implanted a pacemaker in an 18-hour-old infant, which is a surgery often noted by his colleagues.

"I feel I'm best at [surgery]," Dr. Ochsner once said, according to The Times Picayune. "I feel I can do it as well as anybody in the world, I'm competent at it, and it's fun. Surgery is an art as much as a science ... You have to improvise almost every case — no two cases are the same — and that's where the fun of surgery comes in, making something new that particular moment that you've never seen before ... It's like opening up a package; it's always a little different."

In a statement to The Times Picayune, Andy Wisdom, Ochsner Health System's board chairman, and Warner Thomas, Ochsner Health System's president and CEO, described Dr. Ochsner as "a consistent, larger-than-life presence."

"His sphere of influence spanned across New Orleans, generations of Ochsner physicians and colleagues and the international medical community," they said.

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