Dr. David A Geer, center, celebrates performing his 5,000th heart surgery with his nursing staff, from left: Brenda Landrum, Amy Odom, Charlotte Massey, Evelyn King, Lori McMullen and Haley Davis.
By Ida Brown
Courtesy The Meridian Star
Meridian cardiovascular surgeon Dr. David A. Geer reached a career milestone the first week of April 2013 — performing his 5,000th heart surgery procedure.
And though proud of the achievement, Geer quickly notes it is not his alone.
“It’s a big body of work… but it is an accomplishment of a whole bunch of people — nurses, perfusionists, anesthesiologists and cardiologists,” said Geer, who is in practice with Anderson Cardiac Surgical Associates.
That body of work spans nearly four decades, more than two decades of which have been in Meridian.
A native of Stratford, Conn., Geer attended Yale Medical School, where he developed an interest in heart surgery.
“Back in the 1960s, heart surgery was just beginning and it was a very exciting field that I wanted to be a part of,” he said. “It was about the time that heart transplantation started, but all forms of heart surgery — including bypass, heart valve and general heart surgery — began.”
Geer completed his residency at Stanford University in California, training under Dr. Norman Shumway, who is recognized as the father of heart transplantation.
It was at Stanford that Geer met Dr. Jeff Hollingsworth, grandson of the late Dr. Jeff Anderson, founder of Anderson Regional Medical Center (then known as Anderson Infirmary).
“He (Hollingsworth) was a fellow resident in surgery with me. He left Stanford a couple of years before I did and set up practice in Jackson, with the intention of returning to his hometown of Meridian.”
In 1976, Geer entered the U.S. Navy and served two years. During that time he met a general surgeon from Birmingham, Ala., who would later inform him about an opening for a heart surgeon at a Birmingham hospital.
Geer worked in Birmingham for ten years, then moved to Meridian in 1988 to begin work in the cardiac catheterization program established by fellow Stanford resident Hollingsworth.
“Jeff and I maintained contact over the years and I knew of his intention to return to Meridian; he had a great love for his hometown,” Geer said. Hollingsworth died in 1986 after creating the program. “At the time of his death, everything for the program was set up. That’s when I came here.”
In the late 80s, Meridian’s heart surgery program was a joint effort of Anderson, Riley and Rush hospitals, which Geer credits as making his transition easier.
“All of them were very helpful in getting me started here,” he said. “So I have a lot of good feelings for all of the hospitals here.”
In his more than 30 years as a heart surgeon — 24 of them in Meridian — Geer said not a lot has changed, despite the technological advances.
“A lot of the way I do surgery today is not a whole lot different from the way I did it 30 years ago,” he said.
Geer does note that today heart surgery is safer and procedures can now be performed on older people as well as those with more risk factors.
“And a lot of that is because of the technology, especially anesthesiology, which has developed even more,” he said.
By the end of the first week of April, Geer — who averages four surgeries a week — passed his 5,000th milestone. And because the 70-year-old surgeon has no plans to retire, the numbers will continue to steadily increase.
“I’ve been blessed with good health so I plan to continue doing what I love to do,” he said. “It’s a tremendous privilege to be able to take care of people and to have them put their trust in me. I get a tremendous amount of gratification from that.”
Humbled by the success he has enjoyed as a heart surgeon, Geer credits his achievements to others, including his staff.
“I love the people I work with. I’ve been blessed with some great nurses, some who have been with me my entire 24 years here,” he said. “I have a strong sense of appreciation for everyone who’s helped me along the way. And I feel very fortunate and very grateful.”
He also credits his former partner, the late Dr. Glenn Lau, who died in 2012.
“We met in the Navy and became good friends,” Geer said. “We went to Birmingham together — he was a general surgeon — and we functioned as a team. Then we came to Meridian and were partners.”
And he credits his wife of 22 years, Charlie Geer. “I have an extremely supportive and understanding wife,” he said. “It would be hard to do what I do without that kind of support and she’s been wonderful.”
The couple have two children, Bill and Jim, and two grandchildren, William, 6, and Alexandra, 2 ½.