Removal of the esophagus, otherwise known as the swallowing passage, often is required in patients with esophagus cancer.

In 1976 at U-M Dr. Mark B. Orringer, the Cameron Haight Distinguished University Professor of Thoracic Surgery, rediscovered an alternative approach to the removal of the esophagus known as transhiatal esophagectomy (THE) and subsequently refined it in the ensuing years.

Mark Orringer

Orringer will offer a Distinguished University Professor lecture on how THE was developed at the university despite major criticism from the “old guard,” and how it has been refined and evaluated. The lecture will take place at 4 p.m. April 1 in the Alumni Center Founders Room, followed by a reception.

Distinguished University Professor is the highest professorial title granted at the university.

The traditional procedure for removing the esophagus, transthoracic esophagectomy, often came with a lot of risks and a high likelihood of complications.

“Though simple in concept, this operation (transthoracic esophagectomy) is a tremendous physiologic insult to the body,” Orringer says. “Combined incisions on the chest and abdomen resulted in difficulty taking a deep breath and subsequent pneumonia as the commonest cause of death after a transthoracic esophagectomy.

“Further, if an anastomotic leak occurs in the first 10 critical days of healing between the esophagus and stomach, the resulting infection is fatal in 50 percent of patients.   

“THE avoids opening the chest (therefore causes less pain and lung complications after surgery) and places the esophageal connection (anastomosis) in the neck, where a leak is easily drained to the “outside” without the risk of a life-threatening internal infection.” 

Regarded as a leader in his field, Orringer joined the Department of Surgery in 1973 and served as head of the Section of Thoracic Surgery from 1985-2011. He has authored or co-authored more than 260 journal articles and 110 book chapters, and is the editor of six books. He has held key national surgical leadership positions, including president of both the Thoracic Surgery Directors Association and the Society of Thoracic Surgeons. 

Among his numerous awards are induction into the Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars and the U-M Medical School’s League of Clinical Excellence and League of Educational Excellence.

Professionally, he is best known for his commitment to medical student and resident education as well as his development of two leading operations, most notably, transhiatal esophagectomy.