Howard University and Howard University Hospital Celebrate 80th Birthday of Medical Icon

WASHINGTON (May 21) -- Dr. LaSalle D. Leffall, surgical oncologist, researcher, scientist, teacher and medical icon, is one of the world’s most celebrated physicians.

He was the first African American head of five of the nation’s top medical organizations.   He has been appointed to medical commissions by five presidents.  He is currently chair of the President’s Cancer Panel.  He is the recipient of 14 honorary doctorate degrees and is a member of surgical societies the world over.

But as he took all of those positions and stacked up all those awards, Leffall never left the two institutions he dearly loves, Howard University College of Medicine and Howard University Hospital, which have been his home for more than four decades.

The two institutions returned some of that affection Monday with a surprise 80th birthday celebration for Leffall in the hospital’s Tower Auditorium.  Medical students, chairs of medical departments, other physicians and hospital officials and friends gathered to surprise Leffall as he entered the room, thinking it was just another day of Grand Rounds.

For the next hour, colleagues and friends talked about what Leffall had meant to the institutions and to them personally.

Howard University Hospital CEO Larry Warren talked about how he had sought out Leffall shortly upon coming to the hospital and the help that Leffall has continuously given him.

Dr. Eve J. Higginbotham, senior vice president and executive dean for Health Sciences, talked about the many characteristics that have made Leffall loved and respected in and out of the medical profession.

Charlene Drew-Jarvis, daughter of blood pioneer and first chair of the Howard University College of Medicine’s Department of Surgery Dr. Charles Drew, talked about how she always see some of her father in Leffall.  Leffall studied under Drew, and was in the last class he taught before his tragic death April 1, 1950, as a result of a traffic accident.

Dr. Clive O. Callender, chairman emeritus of the Department of Surgery and director of the hospital’s Transplant Center, told how Leffall always inspired others by leading by example.

Dr. Edward O. Cornwell III, surgeon-in-chief and chair of the Department of Surgery at the College of Medicine, said Leffall’s influence on him has only been second to his own father.

Dr. Wayne Frederick, associate professor of surgery and associate dean of Clinical Affairs at the College of Medicine and interim director at the Howard University Cancer Center, told how despite all of his accomplishments, Leffall remained one of the most humble, gracious men he had ever known.

Leffall’s accomplishments are certainly impressive.  He has been appointed to commissions by presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama.

He is the first African-American president of the American Cancer Society, the American College of Surgeons, the Society of Surgical Oncology, the Society of Surgical Chairmen and the Washington Academy of Surgery.

His numerous honorary doctorate degrees come from universities such as Georgetown University, the University of Maryland, Princeton University, Amherst College and Thomas Jefferson University.

As a professor, he has taught two of every three of the 7,800 Howard University College of Medicine graduates since its founding in 1868.

Additionally, he is an honorary fellow of the International Society of Surgery (Societe Internationale de Chirurgie), the College of Surgeons of South Africa, the West African College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Surgeons of Canada, the Deutsche fuer Chirurgie (German Surgical Society) and the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

Leffall thanked those who gathered.

“I will remember this day for all my life,” he said, “and even after my life here is over.”

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