Renowned Surgeon Joe U. Levi Retires After 44-Year Career

Long known as a “surgeon’s surgeon,” Joe U. Levi, M.D., recently retired from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. In a UM career spanning 44 years, Levi, who was professor of surgery and Chief of General Surgery, treated thousands of patients and taught generations of medical students and residents.

“Joe was a treasured colleague and an extraordinary surgeon,” said Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., executive dean for education and policy. “He always demanded a level of excellence as a teacher, and his contributions to patients, students and residents will be his legacy in the surgical world.”

A Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center specialist in pancreatic cancer surgery, as well as treatments for liver and biliary diseases, Levi was recognized by the faculty at Sylvester at a May 31 luncheon. He will also be honored at the General Surgery 2018 Chief Resident Graduation Ceremony on June 16.

“It’s been a privilege to care for our patients, and educate so many young surgeons,” Levi said. “Our field has changed dramatically during my career, and it will continue to evolve. My advice for today’s students is to keep learning and never take a career in medicine for granted.”

“Joe is a great surgeon with a great mind,” said Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., professor and chair of the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery and the David Kimmelman Endowed Chair in Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. “We will miss him tremendously, but are glad he will have time with his wife Linda and their family.”

Levi was a gifted teacher, who helped train six or seven surgical residents a year for more than four decades, and an exceptional clinician, said Gardner. “When my son Benjamin needed hernia surgery at age 13, he only wanted Joe to do it,” Gardner said. “Joe agreed reluctantly, since he hadn’t done the procedure for a number of years. He did the surgery with a resident while I held a textbook open in the operating room, and everything went fine.”

Born at Jackson

Levi was born at Jackson Memorial Hospital and grew up in Miami. He earned his bachelor’s degree and medical degree at the University of Florida, and spent two years as a resident at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He returned to UM/Jackson to complete his surgical residency and worked in the lab of hepatologist Leon Schiff, M.D., whose son Eugene R. Schiff, M.D., is professor of medicine and director of the Schiff Center for Liver Diseases.

“My father joined the Department of Surgery in 1974,” said David Levi, M.D., a transplant surgeon in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Through the years, he taught in many different capacities, leaving a legacy that extends well beyond his field. I’ve talked with many former students and residents who’ve pursued a wide array of medical and surgical specialties; they’ve told me they apply lessons learned from my father on a daily basis.”

When Alan S. Livingstone, M.D., professor of surgery, came to the medical school in 1974 as a resident from Canada, Levi was one of the first faculty members he met. “Joe had a big influence on me right away,” he said. “Joe became my teacher, my colleague and surgical partner,” added Livingstone, who joined the faculty in 1976 and served as chair of the Department of Surgery for 18 years. “Joe is a consummate clinician and a stellar educator.”

In the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Levi and Livingstone worked closely together developing the distal splenorenal shunt procedure for patients with portal hypertension.
“We published a series of more than 500 cases,” Livingstone said, noting that many surgeons from the U.S. and foreign countries came to UM to learn about the procedure. Levi remained at the forefront of pancreatic surgery, and in 2016 he was a co-author of the “Multidisciplinary Teaching Atlas of the Pancreas: Radiological, Surgical, and Pathological Correlations.”

Through the years, Livingstone and Levi would have lively debates on care pathways at grand rounds and morbidity and mortality conferences. They also played racquetball with their surgical colleagues, the late Robert Zeppa, M.D., and Duane Hutson, M.D. Meanwhile, Levi became a devoted fan of Hurricanes football. He was involved in other medical school activities and was inducted into UM’s Iron Arrow Honor Society.

“It is a pleasure to honor Joe Levi for a lifetime of service to the patients at UM and Jackson Memorial Hospital,” said Gardner. “He will be missed but never forgotten.”

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