Hindsight, 1969: John Adriani, MD

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Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics was the topic of our 1969 symposium, where one of our most illustrious speakers was not an ophthalmologist – Dr. John Adriani, who’d made a major impact in the field of anesthesiology.  Dr. Adriani also, despite having lived and started his career up North, spent the majority of his career working locally in New Orleans.  As a note of trivia, he actually is the last on our list of past speakers who lived and worked in New Orleans.  We’ve had four total:  Dr. Adriani in 1969; Dr. Floyd Skelton in 1958; and Doctors James Allen and Gustav Bahn, both in 1954.

Dr. Adriani was born in 1907 in Connecticut to Italian immigrants, the eldest of nine children.  He earned his AB and MD at Columbia University and began his training to be a surgeon.  Anesthesiology was still in its infancy at the time – in fact, Dr. Adriani later recalled only taking one lecture on the topic.  His interest in it developed after an experience as a medical student where he was called into an operating room to administer anesthesia to a young woman about to undergo abdominal surgery.  She died soon after his administration, causing him to question his abilities as a potential surgeon until he realized that she had a hereditary defect that interacted with the anesthesia to cause her death.  This discovery piqued his interests, and lead to him enrolling in the first anesthesiology training program on the East Coast, housed at Bellevue Hospital under Dr. Emory A. Rovenstine.

After completing his training, Dr. Adriani served as an instructor on Dr. Rovenstine’s team until 1941, when Dr. Adriani was offered the brand new position of Director of Anesthesia at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.  Despite being a hospital of great renown and having an abundance of state of the art equipment, the Charity department was in total disarray, with little trained residents and nurses administering anesthesia to patients.  He started lectures on the fundamentals for the nurses, and initiated an anesthesia rotation for six interns who administered anesthesia in the mornings and in the afternoons attended lectures about airway management, pharmacology, and physiology.  Through these efforts, Adriani established an accredited physician training program as well as a school of nurse anesthesia at Charity.

During all of this, Dr. Adriani also held appointments at three different institutions simultaneously – he served as assistant professor in the surgery departments at Tulane University and LSU, as well as held an appointment as Professor of Pharmacology at Loyola University School of Dentistry.

It has been said that as an anesthesiologist he had no equal in his knowledge of the chemistry and pharmacology of anesthetic drugs. When shown the chemical structure of a new drug, he could predict the effect in animal experimentation in the laboratory and he was rarely wrong.  By the time he had retired had trained more than 300 anesthesiologists and 1,600 nurse-anesthesiologists, authored 13 books, published at least 650 articles, and served as an editor of Anesthesiology for 9 years.

Doctor John Adriani, a pioneer in the field of anesthesiology, passed away in 1988 after a brief illness.

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