Dr. Ernest Barsamian Receives 2007 Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award

Dr. Ernest Barsamian of West Roxbury, Massachusetts received the prestigious 2007 Ellis Island Medal of Honor. The award was presented to Dr. Barsamian and 95 ethnically diverse recipients by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations at their Medal of Honor ceremony on Ellis Island on May 12. A gala black tie dinner in the Great Hall of Ellis Island honoring the medalists followed the presentations. Dr. Barsamian was born in Aleppo, Syria on May 12, 1926 and served his residency at the American University Hospital in Beirut, Lebanon, where he established a burn unit and published the first paper in the Lebanese Medical Journal on the treatment of burns. Dr. Barsamian was the president of the hospital’s Resident Staff Organization. After immigrating to the United States in 1956, Dr. Barsamian entered the Harvard Surgical Residency Program at Boston City Hospital. Soon after, he began doing research at the Harvard Sears Surgical Laboratories and became a diplomate of the American Board of Surgery in 1957 and the American Board of Cardiothoracic Surgery in 1958, when he joined the Harvard faculty’s Department of Surgery. Dr. Barsamian joined the MIT faculty in the Division of Cryogenic Engineering and the Division of Sponsored Research under Professor Samuel Collins, who was the first person to liquefy helium commercially. There Dr. Barsamian built one of the first heart-lung machines to run without an electric motor. He used oxygen to oxygenate the blood to also drive the mechanical engine. He also did some of the pioneer work in heart and bone marrow preservation and transplantation. Using the principle in physics that every liquid has a vapor pressure that varies with temperature, he was able to preserve organs placed under an inverted jar at a constant temperature of four degrees Celsius. In 1960, Dr. Barsamian became Associate Chief of Surgery when Boston’s Faulkner Hospital became affiliated with Harvard University. There he established an emergency room service, and within six months he was the busiest surgeon on staff and the first to perform an esophago-gastrectomy. That same year he joined the faculty of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Harvard, where he taught biostatistics and presented a paper at the annual meeting of the New England Surgical Society on the use of computers in surgical diagnosis and evaluation of the quality of surgical care. Dr. Barsamian became Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the West Roxbury V.A. Medical Center in Boston in 1963 despite the fact that the new position offered a mere fraction of income compared to his lucrative clinical practice at Faulkner. Barsamian said, “I felt obligated to our nation’s veterans without whom most of the world might have been servile under the Nazi boot.” He initiated the first V.A. open-heart surgery program and developed a new safe technique to preserve the heart during cardiac operations through continuous monitoring of pressure and blood flow from the heart-lung machine into the coronary arteries. In 1971, Dr. Barsamian became chief of all surgical services and divisions in the hospital. In this capacity, he oversaw the following specialties: general surgery, vascular surgery, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, urology, thoracic and cardiac surgery, anesthesiology, ophthalmology, and optometry. He continued his research and teaching, offered several elective courses in the Harvard catalogue, upgraded and expanded the Department of Surgery with Harvard residents rotating through all the surgical specialties except OB/GYN. He was promoted to Associate Professor of Surgery at Harvard during this period. While continuing his work in surgery in 1978, Dr. Barsamian became Associate Dean at Harvard Medical School and the Chief of Staff of the hospital overseeing all the clinical, academic, and research programs. He merged the Brockton V.A. and the West Roxbury V.A. into one tertiary care hospital, one of the first such mergers in the Department of Veterans Affairs. As Chief of Staff he oversaw the development of all research programs, especially in psychiatry and mental health where research which was almost non-existent blossomed into the largest such program at Harvard. He also persuaded the Department of Veterans Affairs to build a $66 million wing on the West Roxbury campus dedicated to outpatient care and research, the first of its kind in the V.A. The spinal cord injury service there became a model for the entire country. While Chief of Staff at the V.A., Dr. Barsamian was promoted to Professor of Surgery at Harvard and also Faculty Dean at Harvard Medical School. During his long career, Dr. Barsamian has received close to 200 awards, honors, commendations, and certificates of appreciation. To mention some of them from: Every veterans organization U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Distinguished Service Award and Exceptional Service Award). Undersecretaries of the Department of Veterans Affairs The Governor of Massachusetts The Massachusetts House of Representatives The Massachusetts State Senate Harvard V.A. Dean’s committee The Matson Award %u213 the highest teaching award to a role model surgeon by Harvard University/Brigham and Women’s Hospital Honorary member of the Harvard Medical Alumni Association The Worthen Award for Academic Excellence %u213 the highest award given by the Department of Veterans Affairs The Ernest M. Barsamian Award by the Department of Surgery at the Boston V.A medical center/Harvard University Certificate of Valor from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society The Ernest M. Barsamian Auditorium %u213 in the central building of the hospital where all the major lectures and academic activities take place. He has also been active in civic organizations. He served as president of the West Roxbury Rotary Club, was on the board of the Center of the Blind, served the Armenian Church as a steward and in the Holy Trinity Men’s Union, and is a member of the Alumni Association of the American University of Beirut (President of the New England Chapter), and also as president of the Surgical Alumni of North America, and as Distinguished Alumnus of the University. Though having lost his wife to pancreatic cancer five years ago, Dr. Barsamian is the proud father of two sons, two daughters, and 10 grandchildren. Dr. Barsamian’s is the latest name of notable Armenia’s to win the prestigious award. Some others are Louise Simone, Dr. Mihran Agbabian, Nazar Nazarian, Dr. Vartan Gregorian, Berge Setrakian, Hovnanian brothers, Albert Boyajian, Hon. Arman Arabian, Hon. Dickran Tevrizian, Dr. Roger Ohanesian , Cecile Keshishian, Vahan Chamlian, Mayor Rafi Manoukian of Glendale, CA. The Ellis Island Medal of Honor is awarded to distinguished American citizens who exemplify the ideal of living a life dedicated to the American way while preserving the treasured values of their heritage, contribute extraordinary service enabling the growth and preservation of the diversity of American life, and also achieve a level of distinguished service to humanity. NECO’s Ellis Island Medal of Honor is the only award of its kind sanctioned by both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. Recipients’ names are listed in the Congressional Record.

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