Tribute to Ralph J. Gorten, MD
Compiled in 2000 by: Raleigh F. Johnson, Jr., Ph.D.
The University of Texas Medical Branch, Department of Radiology, Galveston, Texas
Reformatted in 2016 by: Twyla B. Bartel, DO, MBA, FACNM
The Annual Ralph J. Gorten Nuclear Cardiology Lecture is a tribute to Ralph J. Gorten, MD. Throughout his brilliant career in Nuclear Medicine, Ralph J. Gorten was a superb physician with the highest standards and concern for the patient, a pioneer contributor to the advancement of Nuclear Medicine, a skilled teacher and supporter of colleagues, residents, medical students, and technologists, and a trusted and loyal friend whose presence is sorely missed.
Dr. Gorten was born in Magdeburg, Germany, on April 7, 1929. He completed his B.A. in 1951 from Western Maryland College and obtained his medical degree in 1955 from The University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. At the University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, Ralph completed an internship and residencies in Internal Medicine, Nuclear Medicine, and Cardiology in 1958. Following a one-year post-doctoral Research Fellowship in Cardiology at Duke University in 1959, Ralph served for three years as Chief of the Radioisotope Section of the US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks AFB in San Antonio. In 1963, Ralph completed a three-year post-doctoral research fellowship in Cardiology at The University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Washington. From 1963 to 1971, he served as Chief of Nuclear Medicine at the V.A. Hospital in Durham, North Carolina, and also was on the faculty at Duke University School of Medicine in the Departments of Physiology, Internal Medicine, and Radiology. Ralph became Chief of Nuclear Medicine and Professor of Radiology and Internal Medicine at The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston in 1971. After 10 years in academia at UTMB, Dr. Gorten accepted the challenge in private practice as Chief of Nuclear Medicine at the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston, Texas, where he remained until his retirement in April 1997.
All great men not only influence those around them but also are impacted by others. On May 12, 1962, Ralph married Katherine Alice Bennett who was his faithful wife, companion, and supporter throughout his career. He also was influenced by their children, Brian, Susan, and Laura. His passions other than his wife, family, and work, included music, skiing, and sailing. These were to be a significant part of his retirement but unfortunately on September 20, 1997, Ralph J. Gorten, MD, suffered a fatal stroke. Ralph had many friends that not only shared his interests but also were influenced by his gentlemanly demeanor, his zeal for life, and his innate leadership skills.
Early Development of 3-Dimensional (3D) Imaging
It is perhaps prophetic that in the June, 1998, (volume 23, number 6, pages 402, 403) issue of Clinical Nuclear Medicine, the “Memorial and Eulogy” written by Drs. Gerald and Sally DeNardo was preceded by an article on the use of 3D imaging in Nuclear Medicine. In 1969, when I was recruited by Ralph Gorten to join him on the faculty of Duke University as the medical physicist in Nuclear Medicine, I brought my passion for developing 3D imaging in medicine. He offered his complete support and encouragement in this vision.
One of the oldest imaging modalities in Nuclear Medicine was the rectilinear scanne, which was one of the first available but crude tomographic imaging systems due to its focusing collimator. As a direct result of Dr. Gorten’s encouragement and influence, I attempted to “stack” multiple rectilinear scans, made at different collimator distances, to simulate a 3D image. Before the general availability of computers, these crude 3D images were displayed on perspective graph paper. This project continued in 1972 when I was recruited again by Dr. Gorten to UTMB in Galveston. 3D image processing required complex data computations which were available only on large, expensive mainframe computers. Since this beginning, 3D imaging has evolved across many modalities into a highly sophisticated means of viewing anatomy to improve the diagnosis by the radiologist/nuclear medicine physician and for the benefit of the patient.
Memorial and Eulogy: Ralph J. Gorten, M.D. 1927-1997
Excerpts published in Clinical Nuclear Medicine, June 1998, Volume 23, Number 6, Pages 402-403.
These remarks were delivered in part at the memorial service for Dr. Gorten on September 27, 1997.
‘The task of attempting this memorial of high praise for a dear friend and esteemed colleague is daunting and painful for us. Ralph Gorten, a pioneer in nuclear medicine, died of a stroke at the age of 68 years on September 20, 1997, after only recently having "retired" as Nuclear Medicine Physician at the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic in Houston, Texas, where he had practiced for the previous 16 years. Ralph was selected one of the "best doctors in America" for the Central region just before his retirement. Ralph struggled with his retirement decision, advising us beforehand, "You know, I hate to retire. I really like practicing nuclear medicine." Ralph had begun to use his new freedom, as one might have expected, to actively pursue many interests, including preparing data on the clinical use of radioisotopic venography and renography for publication while anticipating sailing and skiing adventures with friends, and "organizing" as he did by instinct. Ralph's unexpected death not only deprived him of the pleasures that he had projected for retirement but also has deprived his wife, Kay, his children, Brian, Susan, and Laura, and his many friends of his sparkling and endearing companionship. This eulogy for Ralph Gorten is appropriate to his stature in and contributions to our specialty of nuclear medicine and his long service on the editorial board of this journal. The esteem and affection of Ralph's family, friends, and professional and technical colleagues were manifest at the memorial service, where it was apparent that Ralph had intimately touched many individuals in his path through life.’
‘From 1959 to 1961 Ralph was Chief of the Radioisotope Section of the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio, Texas. It was during this period that he met and successfully pursued his lovely wife-to- be, Kay, a native of Kansas City, Missouri. Kay served not only as a partner in the resulting marvelous American family of three children but also as a companion without whom Ralph could not have lived life so well. ‘
‘Ralph maintained his academic yet practical approach to nuclear medicine while in the clinical environment of the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. He continued his leadership in national and regional nuclear medicine organizations. He served as President of the Southwestern Chapter and Education and Research Foundation of the Society of Medicine. His commitment to education and clinical nuclear medicine is reflected by long service on the Academic Council, the Education and Training committee of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, as well as the SNM Education and Research Foundation. He was also President of the Texas Association of Physicians in Nuclear Medicine. Ralph was a diplomate of the American Board of Nuclear Medicine and a fellow of the American College of Physicians.’
‘On the occasion of multiple eulogies at Ralph's memorial service, he was repeatedly referred to as a "gentleman." Indeed, this is true. Ralph was a consummate gentleman, invariably patient and gentle with each individual no matter what the nature of the relationship. However, Ralph was much more than a gentleman. He was a caring person. He was a motivated person. He was an intense and persistent person…indeed, Ralph was a loving person. He loved his family, his friends, his colleagues, his patients, and his work, sailing and skiing, and music of all types. He loved life! All of us shall miss Ralph greatly. Undoubtedly, he has found new challenges and opportunities for his immense energies.
Gerald L. DeNardo, MD, and Sally J. DeNardo, MD
Professors of Medicine and Radiology, University of California at Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, California.