Donald Zavala: a giant in chest medicine, or Scoping Hannibal

In a just-published piece in Chest as part of the journal’s “Giants in Chest Medicine” series, Joel Kline, MD, and Joseph Zabner, MD, offer an incredible anecdote about Donald C. Zavala, MD, FCCP, Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine and the department’s first fellow in pulmonary medicine, “at a time,” they write, “when chest physicians primarily focused on [tuberculosis].”

After being inspired by a Japanese thoracic surgeon named Dr. Shigeto Ikeda at a 1969 conference, Zavala went to some extraordinary lengths to acquire the inventor’s fiberoptic bronchoscope and translate its instructions from Japanese to English. With only a little encouragement, some funding, and probably even less awareness from then department-head Dr. James Clifton, Kline and Zabner write:

Don started his bronchoscopy experience on Hannibal, a collie, who gamely underwent numerous exploratory procedures. . . . To the credit of the University of Iowa, the institution that fostered his success, when Don’s adventures were discovered and brought to the attention of his chair, Dr. Clifton, he received a strict admonishment—don’t leave any dog hair behind! Finally, after over a year of practice with Hannibal, Don was ready to attempt the procedure on a patient with a small right upper lobe nodule. This procedure led to the correct diagnosis (squamous cell carcinoma in a smoker).

In the rest of the editorial, Kline and Zabner detail the achievements of Zavala and the impact his work has had on pulmonary medicine.

The University of Iowa Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine is proud to acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of giants, among whom Donald Zavala stands proudly, upright, and straight.

Kline and Zabner’s article is worth the read and stands as introduction to the hour-long conversation Chest recorded between Zavala and pulmonologist Kyle Hogarth, MD at the University of Chicago. Zavala offers fascinating insight into his career, his relationship with other key figures in the history of our department, that first bronchoscope and the development of modern bronchoscopy, and many other topics. All of which is available here.


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