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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

ADVANCE Remembers Thomas Petty

Published December 16, 2009 2:38 PM by test test
A picture of a wide-smiling Thomas L. Petty, MD, FAARC, on a fishing expedition and a note on his website, indicate that Dr. Tom is out of the office. But this time, the 76-year-old doctor won't return.

Dr. Petty, who is widely known as the father of pulmonary rehabilitation, died Saturday, Dec. 12 at his home in Denver. He leaves behind wife Carol, three children, eight grandchildren, and long-time colleague and friend, Louise Nett.

"With Tom's passing, an era of exciting science and patient advocacy passes with him, most likely not to be replaced in our time," said George Burton, MD, medical director of the sleep disorders center at Kettering Medical Center, Kettering, Ohio.

In his more than 40 years as a clinician, Dr. Petty reshaped the landscape of respiratory care. He authored or co-authored more than 150 investigational studies, organized and founded the Association of Pulmonary Program Directors, and wrote more than 800 articles in medical and lay publications. His work earned accolades and awards from the American Thoracic Society, American Association for Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, American Association for Respiratory Care, and American College of Chest Physicians.

Dr. Petty may be best remembered for his communication to and advocacy for patients. "Patients, therapists, and physicians alike have a growing need to learn more about the importance of maintaining lung health and preventing and treating both acute and common respiratory disorders," Dr. Petty wrote in his online column, Ask Dr. Tom.

Even as Dr. Petty strongly focused on the practice of medicine, he made time for the people around him. Friends and colleagues remember Dr. Petty as a man filled with the joy of living. He was an active outdoorsman who went trout fishing and climbed mountains. He was a lover of jokes and a practical joker, himself, many said.

"He had a tremendous sense of humor," recalled Paul Kvale, MD, who knew Dr. Petty from their work together in the late 1970s on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute's nocturnal oxygen therapy trial. "He would tell jokes that everyone would laugh at and he could get a crowd having a good time."

At the Thomas L. Petty Aspen Conference, which was renamed in his honor, people would gather around a fire just to talk with him. His good nature made him a natural mentor to all he encountered long before then.

"He was always just delighted to sit around with the fellows and talk about what we were doing," recalled D. Robert McCaffree, MD, Master FCCP, who first encountered Dr. Petty as a young fellow when Dr. Petty would periodically sit in on the critical care review course taught by his good friend, Bob Rogers, MD.

While Dr. McCaffree didn't train under Dr. Petty, he remembers turning to him for guidance and help as a young faculty member. Once, he asked Dr. Petty to write a chapter for a book he was editing. Though Dr. Petty was swamped with work and initially reluctant to commit to the assignment, he offered to help.

"He was always looking out for the fellows and faculty members," Dr. McCaffree said. "In a way, my views of Tom are from someone who he helped from afar. We did not work that strongly together, but I think that points to his education and support of faculty members but also everyone in pulmonary disease."

As a long-time editorial board member for ADVANCE, Dr. Petty always was willing to share his wealth of knowledge. "He would give us timely ideas for editorial content or take a weekend to write an article," Editor Sharlene George recalled. "Dr. Petty was an enthusiastic and genuine person -- a true leader of pulmonary medicine and respiratory care."

As colleagues and friends across the country join together to mourn Dr. Petty's passing, we would like to share thoughts and memories of Dr. Petty in celebration of his life.

The world of pulmonary and critical care medicine was saddened this week to learn of the death of its beloved friend, mentor, and role model, Thomas Petty, MD.

Tom arrived on the scene to bridge the gap between the classical pulmonology physiology of the 1950-1970 era, and to translate many of their findings into carefully structured classical paradigm which formed the bones of modern pulmonary medicine.

The list of Tom's singular contributions that immediately come to mind include his seminal work with ARDS, COPD nosology, the IPPB and oxygen therapy conferences and their spin-off, pulmonary rehabilitation, office spirometry and its utility in early diagnosis of lung disease, and the most recent GOLD strategy for the management and prevention of COPD. What a list!

His care of patients, teaching of questioning of medical students, fellows, and colleagues was the stuff of legend. He was a pragmatist to the extreme: Who could forget the honors lecture he gave at an ACCP annual meeting wearing his own oxygen mask! I believe "he died with his boots on" as he would have liked.

My fondest memories of Tom were listening to him take one side or the other of the "pro" and "con" lectures at the AARC and ACCP meetings. I was on the receiving end of one of these and lost!

Hail and farewell, friend Tom! Your contributions to public health and to medical education were many, and they will long outlive you.

--George Burton, MD

ADVANCE editorial consultant,

Medical Director, Sleep Disorders Center,

 Kettering Medical Center


Thomas L. Petty, MD, was an innovator who made information a key component of pulmonary disease treatment and spent his life in pursuit of better breathing for patients with lung disease. Like most therapists, I did not know him personally, but I read many of the books and articles he published. I heard him speak at several AARC events and was always amazed at the candor of his remarks.

The website contains some of the plain-spoken information Dr. Petty communicated to his patients. A patient complained on the website that a doctor diagnosed her with emphysema but didn't explain things. "What should I do?" she asked Dr. Petty. He told her: "Get another doctor who will explain things to you."

Dr. Petty believed that pulmonary rehabilitation and portable oxygen therapy could allow patients with lung disease to still enjoy life and was a tireless advocate for better and more portable equipment. His work shaped the practice of thousands of therapists. His advocacy touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients. His leadership mentored scores of physicians who practice what he preached. While Dr. Petty may be gone from this world, the lasting legacy of clinical excellence he left behind will live on for decades to come.

--A. L. DeWitt, JD, RRT, FAARC

ADVANCE columnist


Dr. Petty's book "Adventures of an Oxy-Phile" is still used by many all over the world as a teaching tool for both therapists and patients. He took us from "inhalation therapy" to "respiratory therapy." He was a huge part of the growth of our profession. He will be sorely missed.

--Jim Thacker, BS, CRT, AE-C

ADVANCE Blogger,

In My Opinion



Donations in memory of Dr. Petty may be sent to:

Colorado COPD Connection,

7035 S. Ash Circle,

Centennial, CO 80122


Aspen Lung Conference,

1414 S. Lima St.,

Aurora, CO 80012-4127.

posted by test test


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