Arthur Guyton, Physiologist: The Cardiac Surgeon Who Wasn’t
Arthur Clifton Guyton was born in the Southern American state of Mississippi in 1919. His father was the Dean of the Medical School of the University of Mississippi and a well known ENT surgeon. He studied at the Harvard Medical School and began his resident training at the Massachusetts General Hospital. He planned to become a cardiac surgeon and was in the final year of his residency training when he was struck down by polio. This was just a decade before Salk’s vaccine made it possible to prevent this infection. This was the second time that his education was interrupted, earlier; he left his studies to join the Navy during WWII. He was paralysed in his left arm, right leg and both shoulders and had to drop out of his training to repair to a health spa where he stayed for 9 months trying to recover the use of his limbs.
This obviously put paid to his dream of becoming a cardiac surgeon, but he turned his abilities to physiology and became the Head of Physiology at the University of Mississippi. He retired from his position as HOD in 1989, but continued as Professor of Physiology until his death in a tragic automobile accident in 2003 which also killed his wife, Ruth.
Dr Guyton became one of the foremost experts worldwide in cardiovascular physiology. His insistence on using mathematical and engineering methods to quantify physiological models enabled him to throw new light on many facets of cardiovascular physiology and helped to bring about the revolution in cardiology and cardiac surgery in the sixties and seventies. One of his major contributions to the field was the number of famous scientists he trained many of whom headed and founded department of physiology which are now well known.
His abilities were not confined to the laboratory. Even when he was on a wheelchair during his illness, he designed a joystick for this wheelchair which became a standard design afterwards. He used to do all repairs in his house himself using a hoist to lower himself into the basement where he happily set about repairing water pipes and electrical lines. He had ten children, all of whom became doctors, and several became professors. Eight of his children attended the Harvard Medical School , definitely a record of sorts.
His college has built a 191000 square foot, eight storied building to house the Arthur C Guyton Research centre at a cost of $60 million to perpetuate his memory.
Perhaps the dedication of his famous textbook says it all : “To My Father for his uncompromising principles that guided my life; My Mother for leading her children into intellectual pursuits; My Wife for her magnificent devotion to her family; My Children for making everything worthwhile.”