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James T. Willerson, MD
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Heart to Heart Archive

Heart to Heart from Dr. James T. Willerson

October 16, 2012

Dear Friend of the Texas Heart Institute,

It is with a heavy heart that I report the passing of Dr. S. Ward Casscells, a senior scholar and former associate director for cardiology research at the Texas Heart Institute. 

Dr. S. Ward CasscellsKnown as "Trip" to his many friends, Dr. Casscells was a close friend, an admired colleague, a brilliant and caring physician-scientist, and an American patriot who dedicated his life to serving others. Our most sincere sympathies go to his wife Roxanne, and their three children. 

President George W. Bush appointed Dr. Casscells in 2007 as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, a post which he tackled over the next two years with his usual zeal, overseeing all Department of Defense (DoD) resources and advising the Defense Secretary on health policy. 

He was widely credited with turning around DoD's struggling health and education system, which included 137,000 employees and 10 million patients in 900 clinics and hospitals in 100 countries. When he left, the system was ranked No. 1 in surveys of patient satisfaction. For this work, he was awarded the DoD's highest civilian award, the Distinguished Public Service Medal; the Surgeon General's Medallion from the Department of Health and Human Services; the Army's Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service; and the Order of Military Medical Merit. 

Dr. Casscells, who also was a U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps colonel, served a three-month tour of duty in Iraq in 2006. There, he served as liaison to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the Iraqi health minister to create a protocol for health policy and medical administration in the region. While serving in Iraq, Dr. Casscells received the Joint Service Commendation Medal. 

Dr. Casscells was deployed to both the Middle East and Asia to study the avian flu and assess the possibility of a worldwide pandemic. As a result of his work as the U.S. Army Medical Command's senior medical advisor for avian influenza and pandemic influenza, Dr. Casscells was awarded the U.S. Army's Meritorious Service Medal.   

His book, When It Mattered Most, a tribute to medics killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, was termed by Newsweek's Evan Thomas, "a noble work."  

Several years ago, in civilian life, he led an important research study into influenza after he saw a connection between heart attacks and recent bouts of flu or colds in his cardiac patients. That study proved a positive correlation between the flu vaccine and prevention of heart attacks, and is the basis of public advisories THI still issues each year to heart patients.  

Dr. Casscells served as chief of cardiology and vice president for biotechnology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. He was also the John Edward Tyson Distinguished Professor of Medicine and a professor of cardiology at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. 

He also collaborated with me and others at THI in the discovery of the role of vulnerable plaques in arteries that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Out of that research came new catheters that are now used worldwide to help detect those plaques by measuring temperatures within arteries. Dr. Casscells and I were co-founders of the highly successful Volcano Corporation, which produces those catheters and other medical devices.  

His work in mobile telemedicine and disaster response earned him the General Maxwell R. Thurman Award, the Department of Health and Human Service's Best Public Health Practice Award, as well as the Memorial Hermann Health System's Hero Award.

In 2010 he was named recipient of the 2010 Neal Pike Prize at Boston University. The Pike Prize recognizes "individuals who have made special contributions that have improved the lives of people with disabilities."  

We are very proud of Dr. Casscells and all of his efforts benefiting the people of Texas and the United States. Dr. Casscells was one of the most creative physician-scientists in our country. 

That he used so many of these skills, along with his compassion and dedication to serve people, especially our men and women in uniform, our retired military, and their families, is an inspiring legacy. He will be profoundly missed.


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  James T. Willerson, MD
  President and Medical Director



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