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Dr. Richard H. Adler, prominent thoracic surgeon and professor

July 2, 1922 - Sept. 21, 2017

Not only was Dr. Richard H. Adler a prominent and well-regarded surgeon in the Buffalo area for over 30 years, he also was cerebral, musically inclined, a natural athlete and handsome, to boot.

As if all that wasn't enough, the founder and director of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Buffalo General Hospital also possessed an impeccable bedside manner and a gift for teaching. Dr. Adler also was the founder and head of the Cardiothoracic Surgical Residency Program at the University at Buffalo’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Dr. Adler died Sept. 21 in Wyckoff, N.J., his adopted home since his retirement in 1994.

A Buffalo native, he was a 1939 graduate of Lafayette High School, who went on to earn his undergraduate degree in biology at Cornell University in Ithaca in 1942. That led him to back to his hometown and UB Medical School, where he received his Medical Degree only three years later in 1945.  Dr. Adler was merely 23 years old. That same year, he was awarded the Roswell Park Memorial Institute Prize in Surgery.

His father, Dr. Isadore Adler was also a physician, a pediatrician, who likely had some influence on his son's choice of profession. However, Dr. Richard Adler's daughter, Pattie, said her father wasn't necessarily inclined to go into the medical merely to follow in his own father's footsteps.

"When he went to undergrad, he did not necessarily start with medicine in mind, but he had an interest and a mind for science. He became interested in medicine, I think, partly because of the challenge of it," said Pattie Adler.

"His dad was the old fashioned pediatrician who would literally stay up all night holding a child's hand. Dad became interested, I think, because of the science of it and the wanting to really make a difference in people's lives," she added.

Pattie Adler said her father chose the specialty field of thoracic surgery because it was the cutting edge of medical study at the time.

Dr. Adler completed general surgery residencies at Buffalo General and Children’s Hospitals, and followed those up with a thoracic surgical residency in 1952 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he also served as senior instructor of surgery there. Dr. Adler was awarded a Dazian Foundation Fellowship to study thoracic surgery in London for a year. He also studied at University Hospitals in Norway and Sweden.

When he returned to the U.S., it was for military service, during which he served as chief of surgery at Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Denver, where Dr. Adler also obtained a master's degree in surgery at the University of Colorado in 1955.

Dr. Adler was recruited to return to his hometown, once again, this time to launch what would become a remarkable clinical and teaching career. The following year, he established and directed the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Buffalo General  and founded the Cardiothoracic Surgical Residency Program at UB’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, both of which he headed for over 30 years.

In 1956, Dr. Adler was chosen to be a Markle Scholar, a five-year award by the national Markle Foundation to support teaching in academic medicine. He published nearly 100 articles in scientific journals and was an internationally sought after national resource for treating lung and esophageal diseases. In 1967,  he  invented the “Adler Rebreather” to prevent and treat respiratory complications after surgery.

In 1968 , Dr. Adler was the lone American physician selected to spend a year in Taiwan as a visiting surgical professor at the National Defense Medical Center.

In 1983, he was received the “Louis & Ruth A. Siegel Distinguished Teaching Award” for excellence in teaching. In 1985,  Dr. Adler was given the “C.P. Chandra Outstanding Teacher Award” at the Buffalo General Department of Surgery.

Dr. Adler wasn't just an accomplished clinician and teacher, though. There were several other sides to him, including his silly side, according to his son, Tom.

"He liked the old Henny Youngman jokes," said Tom Adler. He also was a fan of the British comedian Benny Hill. "That's the kind of stuff he liked, corny, a little bit slapstick type of thing, which made for an interesting contrast to someone who was so intellectual."

Dr. Adler also enjoyed performing magic tricks, producing stick-figure and Popeye drawings, and had a great love of dogs, cookies, the original 1933 "King Kong" movie and international travel.

Pattie Adler said her dad also was a champion swimmer in college.


In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by his wife of 47 years,  the former Ree Dorfman; three additional daughters, Linda Lendman, Jana Wolff  and Kathy Seldin; and a sister, Lucille Lazarus.

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