Johann L. Ehrenhaft, 38MD, 48R, is a physician whose talents in thoracic-cardiovascular surgery have benefited the University of Iowa and countless patients for nearly four decades. Dr. Ehrenhaft became the first chairman of the Division of Thoracic-Cardiovascular Surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in 1949.
In the early 1950s, a time in the history of medicine when physicians took great steps forward in the treatment of heart disease, Dr. Ehrenhaft distinguished himself as a pioneer in cardiopulmonary surgery. He performed the first closed mitral commissurotomy in Iowa in 1950. The surgical procedure corrected the otherwise fatal ravages of rheumatic fever, which narrowed the valves of the heart, forcing it to work harder.
Early in his career at the UI, Dr. Ehrenhaft designed and constructed one of the first heart-lung machines, a device used to support heart and lung function during open-heart surgery. He used the pump clinically for the first time in 1956 to save the life of a five-year-old girl with a ventricular septal defect. Such open-heart surgeries are now fairly common, but were daring and innovative 30 years ago.
Throughout his career, Dr. Ehrenhaft wrote prolifically, extending his influence beyond the clinics and classrooms at the University of Iowa. His bibliography includes over 140 publications and book chapters, among which is one of the earliest studies encouraging surgeons to consider the removal of tumors that have spread to the lung from other sources. He also served as an editor of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery.
But his true legacy is in the thoracic and cardiovascular surgical program he built at Iowa. Dr. Ehrenhaft directed and supervised the training of 53 thoracic surgeons, 18 vascular surgeons, and seven special fellows before his retirement as chairman in 1986. Known as a deeply humane physician with a passion for excellence, Dr. Ehrenhaft's devotion to developing and maintaining surgical training programs of exceptional clinical scope and experience has been recognized by his peers, who elected him president of the Directors of Thoracic Residencies and a director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery.
Dr. Ehrenhaft is a member of over 30 professional societies and of all the distinguished surgical societies. His exemplary career has been influenced by many outstanding mentors: by his mother, one of the first women to earn a PhD in Europe; by his father, a renowned physicist; and by his uncle, Dr. Arthur Steindler, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Iowa.
Dr. Ehrenhaft's contributions, however, extend beyond medicine. His love of art and his interest in the political and social changes surrounding the Renaissance have combined to make him a knowledgeable and sensitive collector of prints and drawings. He was the first president of the Print and Drawing Study Club at Iowa's Museum of Art and is a member of the Friends Development Council.