James DiNardo, MD: Coming Full Circle

By Lisa Wise-Faberowski, MD, MS, FAAP
Chair, Communications and Website Committee, Association of University Anesthesiologists (AUA)
AUA Update Editor
Counselor-at-Large AUA
Associate Professor, Medical Center Line
Pediatric Cardiac Anesthesia
Stanford University
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

Dr. DiNardo

Dr. DiNardo

Though born in New York, Dr. James DiNardo spent the majority of his early life in Concord, Massachusetts. As fate would have it, except for a brief period in Arizona, he would again return to live in his hometown of Concord. He currently lives five miles from his mother, and his daughter attends the same school as attended by Jim. Walden Pond, the inspiration for Henry David Thoreau’s work, Walden/Life in the Woods, is a famous location in Concord, Massachusetts.  

Like Thoreau, many would view Jim as simplistic and humble, but with an unsurpassed depth of character. Jim has spent his entire career in pursuit of knowledge and scientific truth. This simplicity, common sense and intuition have guided him throughout his career. Jim began his training as a surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. He later pursued anesthesia, as anesthesia required intellect in addition to technical expertise. After completing his fellowship in cardiac anesthesia, Jim served as the Chief of Cardiac Anesthesia for three years. Due to the massive hierarchy and lack of mentoring, Jim was uncertain of achieving success in an academic career.

Jim was greatly influenced by Dr. Burnell Brown, an MD/PhD at Brigham Hospital. Dr. Brown, known for the use of alpha blockade for pheochromocytoma, determining the mechanism of halothane toxicity and FDA approval of sevoflurane, became the Founding Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Arizona. So, Jim ventured out west. From a clinical perspective, Jim had it all. He was the Chief of Cardiac Anesthesia and a Vice-Chair of the Department. Though he had minimal contact with the academic world, he was “the cowboy” of cardiac transplant, Jarvik heart implantation, and very early adoption of intraoperative transesophageal echo (TEE) for adults and children. The untimely death of Dr. Brown in 1995 caused Jim to rethink his choices. Working in the field of clinical cardiac anesthesia for the last 10 years was rewarding, but he felt intellectually isolated.

In 1999, he started again at the bottom of the academic totem pole as a cardiac anesthesiologist at Beth Israel and Boston Children’s. Though Jim had attained a significant amount of credibility with the American Board of Anesthesiology (ABA) and the Perioperative TEE Exam Committee while in Arizona, his colleagues’ careers in academic medicine had advanced to leadership positions within their respective institutions. Jim realized he had to move quickly in order to academically catch up, and also that Paul Hickey created an environment in which anyone with a little motivation could succeed. Because of Jim’s appreciation of the resources set before him at Boston Children’s, he found the pursuit of his intellectual dream achievable.
In some ways, one could say Jim’s anesthesia career was in reverse order, leadership before academic success. However, seeing the end before the beginning gave him a greater perception of what it truly means to be a leader.

So, coming full circle, from Concord to Concord/Boston Children’s to Boston Children’s, Jim has transitioned from an anesthetic career initially based on intuition and experience to one of achieving intellectual excellence. For him, mentoring others, helping them find their way is an ultimate career goal.  In his own words, ”The more I see, the less I know and the recognition of this drives my perpetual intellectual curiosity”. To Jim, The Congenital Cardiac Anesthesia Society (CCAS) is the formation of a group of individuals with common interests in pediatric cardiac anesthesia whose ultimate goal is to answer key intellectual questions as a group effort.

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