New Orleans Nostalgia

Doctor’s Destiny - Dr. Alton Ochsner and New Orleans

DR. ALTON OCHSNER (IN THE WHITE COAT) IS PICTURED WITH VISITING DIGNITARY ANASTASIO (TACHITO) SOMOZA DEBAYLE IN APRIL 1967, SHORTLY BEFORE SOMOZA WOULD BECOME THE PRESIDENT OF NICARAGUA. THIS WAS THE SAME YEAR THAT OCHSNER WOULD RECEIVE THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD FROM THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION FOR EXCEPTIONAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO MEDICINE.

COURTESY OF THE NEW ORLEANS PUBLIC LIBRARY

Surgeon Alton Ochsner first came to New Orleans in 1927 at the age of 31, to serve as the chairman of the Department of Surgery at Tulane Medical School.

Fifteen years later, in January of 1942, Ochsner and four other Tulane physicians opened the Ochsner Clinic on Prytania and Aline streets. It was the first group medical practice in the South, and it wasn’t well received by the local medical community. In fact, it was seen as an aggressive attack to the status quo of solo practitioners. Previous to opening, each doctor found 30 dimes deposited on their doorsteps by an anonymous source, meant to evoke the 30 pieces of silver Judas Iscariot received for his betrayal of Christ in the New Testament.

They were very successful, however, and in 1947 they opened the first Ochsner Foundation Hospital in a former Army post hospital near the Huey P. Long Bridge. Ochsner Hospital has grown tremendously over the years and is now the largest medical provider in the metro area.

During his career, Ochsner earned his place in the record books a few times. He was one of the first doctors to recognize the connection between smoking and lung cancer, reporting it in a 1939 article. It took decades for the rest of the world to believe him, but he continued to campaign against tobacco throughout his life.

And in 1953, Dr. Ochsner performed the first successful surgical separation of conjoined twins in which both twins survived.

He retired from surgery in 1967 at age 70, performing operations even on his last day. He performed over 20,000 of them throughout his career, as well as teaching over 3,000 medical students and mentoring even more. He also found time to serve as Rex in ’48.

 

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