Gerard Kaiser Remembered as Groundbreaking Surgeon and UM/Jackson Leader

Pioneering pediatric heart surgeon and former Senior Associate Dean of the Miller School Gerard A. Kaiser, M.D., died June 28 at the age of 80. Surrounded by his family, Kaiser passed away peacefully at Jackson Memorial Hospital, a place that he loved and championed since joining the University of Miami as chief of cardiothoracic surgery in 1971.

Dr. Kaiser came to UM to build the pediatric cardiothoracic surgical program, but over the years he vaulted to Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of the Jackson Health System, where he left an indelible legacy. Working with senior UM and Jackson leaders, Dr. Kaiser fostered relationships and helped build the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center into one of the nation’s top destinations for clinical excellence, one that provides world-class medical care to all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., described Kaiser as “the heart and soul of healthcare in South Florida, both as a pioneering pediatric heart surgeon at Jackson and as an administrator of the burgeoning public hospital system he helped guide from a challenged county department to one of the best teaching hospitals in the world.”

After completing his medical degree at Columbia University and residency at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, Dr. Kaiser arrived in Miami as the youngest chief of surgery ever appointed to a hospital. His main mission was to establish a pediatric cardiac surgery practice, one that would perform lifesaving operations on several thousand children over the next 20 years. He also founded the “Lubb Dubb Club,” named for the sound of a healthy heartbeat, for children who had heart surgery. The club grew to more than 2,000 members who were able to share their special bond and stay in touch as they became adults.

In 1986, Dr. Kaiser and his team performed the first successful heart transplant in Florida, helping to further solidify UM/Jackson’s reputation as a medical center of excellence. In addition to being a unifying leader and team builder, he was also a consummate teacher, training dozens of residents, including more than 30 chiefs of cardiac surgery in Florida and beyond.

In recognition of his clinical excellence, Dr. Kaiser was elected to the presidency of the American Heart Association of Florida. He played a leading role in generating support for the Ryder Trauma Center, which opened in 1992 as a state-of-the-art facility, and also propelled creation of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, which broke ground the same year.

In 1994, Dr. Kaiser became the first full-time Chief Medical Officer of the Jackson Health System, and as Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs at the Miller School he served as the key liaison between the University of Miami and Jackson. He also helped Florida International University launch its medical school, the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. For that effort, Dr. Kaiser was given the Benjamin Leon, Jr. Founding Dean’s Award at the college’s inaugural class commencement just two months ago.

His body of work was recognized in 2005, when the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce awarded Dr. Kaiser its AXA Advisors Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dean Goldschmidt said Dr. Kaiser’s “titles hardly begin to convey the impact his leadership, compassion, commitment, service and, not least of all, surgical skills had on our institution and community.”

Carlos Migoya, President and CEO of Jackson Memorial Hospital, said Dr. Kaiser was known as “a great communicator, someone who was well-respected by all, the bridge between UM and Jackson.”

He leaves behind his wife of 58 years, Joyce, their three children, Beth, Jordan and Charles, 11 grandchildren and a sister. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Jackson Memorial Foundation in memory of Dr. Gerard Kaiser at 901 NW 17th Street, Suite G, Miami, Florida, 33136, or by calling 305-355-4999.

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