Tag Archives: history

In Mourning: Viktor Sokolov

In 1826, The Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote “But with the truth he attracted hearts. But with science he quelled mores.” (From, Stanzas). Such words could be used to describe the life and work of my friend Professor Viktor Sokolov (1946-2019), who died last month at the young age of 73.

Viktor was an accomplished surgeon, anesthesiologist and bronchoscopist. He created the Russian Bronchology Group and was the first Russian regent to the WABIP. He fought to defeat conventional wisdoms and dedicated his life to modernize bronchoscopy practice in his country. In addition to numerous leadership positions, Professor Sokolov was also a former Chair for the Endoscopy Commission of the Russian Ministry of Health, and a long time member of the Academic Council.  

As department head at the Moscow Research institute he led efforts to perform novel interventions in patients with early cancer of the larynx, trachea and bronchi, esophagus, stomach and duodenum, bile duct, choledochus, rectum and colon. He helped promote the use of electrosurgery, argon plasma coagulation, laser thermal destruction, photodynamic therapy and stent insertion. He published more than 300 original scientific papers, dozens of monographs, clinical care guidelines, and 10 teaching manuals. He held 26 patents for scientific methodologies and instruments. 

For more than ten years, I corresponded frequently with Viktor and his son Dmitry (also an expert bronchoscopist). It was a great honor to help them build a training program in Moscow. A few years ago, with my colleagues Nikos Koufos, Rosa Cordovilla, and Enrique Cases, we helped faculty implement the use of training models, checklists and assessment tools in bronchoscopy education. This has been particularly helpful for building skills in endobronchial ultrasound.

Viktor was a scientist at heart, and it is as a scientist that he approached his medical practice. His dream was to cure lung and digestive cancers in their earliest stages, and for this he was always on the alert for technologies that might assist with early diagnosis and treatment.  Because his first love was actually pediatric surgery back in the 1970s, Professor Sokolov was particularly excited to see the recent growth of pediatric bronchoscopy (we have more than 400 doctors communicating through our WhatsApp Peds Groups).

Viktor, we shall miss your humor, your intelligence, and most of all the inspiration of your relentless pursuit of truth.

Farewell, my friend.

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History is important

Elizabeth Hawley (1923-2018) with legendary Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner (photo from Americanalpineclub.org, downloaded 2/15/18)

Elizabeth Hawley died in Kathmandu on January 20, 2018. She was 94 years old. This American journalist was known as “a one-woman climbing institution.” She first went to Nepal as a writer representing Reuters back in 1960, and stayed in Nepal ever since. Prior to Nepal, she had used her life savings to pay for a two-year trip around the world, which included visits to India, the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe.

Strangely, Ms Hurley was never a mountaineer, but began reporting on alpine activity as part of her job as a Reuters journalist. Beginning in 1963, she made it a point to meet virtually every expedition to the Nepal Himalaya both before and after their ascents. According to one report, she conducted more than 7000 expedition interviews. Mountaineers of all sorts, from the most famous to those less known sat in her Kathmandu apartment and subjected themselves to her fierce interrogations. She knew every detail about Himalayan peaks, and could easily tell if a climber was exaggerating or stretching the truth about an exploit (which is actually quite rare in climbing circles). She could also answer questions about the mountains: She served as a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge, so much so, that she received numerous honors from both Nepal and abroad, and, much to her surprise, even had a 6,182-meter Himalayan peak named after her by the Nepalese government.

The database of her interviews and other chronicles is now housed by the American Alpine Club, which has already devoted more than 10,000 hours building, maintaining, and continuing to grow these important pieces of history that document not only the feats and tribulations of hundreds of Himalayan climbers, but also serve as an reference for mountaineering historians everywhere.

As a climber, reading about Elizabeth Hawley reminded me of the importance of this history, but also of the importance of chronicles for any group of professionals. Mountaineers and rock climbers are a pretty tight group, always striving for self-improvement, discovering ways to train more efficiently, and anxious to undertake new challenges. Some of these traits are common to other hobbyists and professionals as well, including doctors and health care professionals.

It is a fact, however, that when it comes to bronchoscopists and Interventional Pulmonologists, there is no complete, written history of our specialty. There is no chronicle of our professional society, nor are there biographies of key players. A few years ago, I asked a couple of older and distinguished bronchoscopists to begin writing a history of the World Association for Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology, and to help me establish a few simple biographical sketches of key figures (I suppose this comes from my own interest and experience teaching and writing about medical history). Sadly, there was little interest. While a lecture was given at an international meeting on the subject, no formal text was prepared or published that documents the people, events, and discoveries that mark our specialty.

Why is that? Will anyone ever establish a chronicle of our international society? A society that now has more than 7000 members? Will recognition ever come to those to whom recognition is due, and who were instrumental in moving our specialty forward, whether it be in scientific discovery, technical prowess, technological innovation, education and training, or dissemination of clinical practices?

Younger doctors are usually inspired by their seniors, and seniors must learn to put their egos aside so that respect and recognition can be upheld by colleagues regardless of personal disputes or disagreement. Learning about the past is a wonderful and often exhilarating way to understand the present and prepare for our future. That is what a formal, written history of our specialty would provide. Therefore, I think building a chronicle of our history is worth pursuing. If anyone is seriously interested in such a project, please contact me at Bronchoscopy.org, or write Michael at WABIP.com.