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Obituary of Daniel Wall Platt, M.D.: a pioneer in anesthesiology

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 4, 2009 - Most people headed for surgery have no idea who their anesthesiologist will be. For nearly 50 years, such was not the case for many patients at Alton Memorial Hospital; they asked for and got Dr. Daniel W. Platt.

"Everyone requested him; this man was so busy," said Ann Cornell, the wife of Dr. Platt's close friend and colleague, Dr. Edward Cornell. "He assisted with three of our children. We were privileged to have him. He was an icon here in Alton."

Dr. Platt, who introduced many of the state-of-the-art anesthetic procedures to the Alton area, and was the anesthesiologist on call during President Gerald Ford's trip to Alton during the 1976 presidential campaign, died Friday of cardiac arrest at Missouri Baptist Hospital in St. Louis. He was 83.

An icon he may have been, but Dr. Platt was a man of great modesty.

"You do what's right and you do what's best," he said shortly before his retirement in 2002 at age 76. "Once you see a solution to a problem that seems adequate and progressive, you adopt it as soon as possible."

"Dan was the best anesthesiologist, best doctor and best man I ever knew; he was probably the best anesthesiologist the St Louis area ever knew," said Cornell, a recently retired general surgeon. Cornell estimated that the two had done "hundreds and hundreds of cases together" since meeting in 1964.

"His love of his work was amazing," Cornell said. "He was at the hospital so much of his life. He made pre-op and post-op rounds. As far as Dan was concerned, the patient wasn't out of his area of interest until they were up and doing well post-operatively."

A Very Young Doctor

Dr. Platt, a native of New York, was an only child who graduated from high school at 15. He later graduated from Queens College in New York and Chicago Medical School. Following medical school, Dr. Platt took his skills to Camp Breckenridge, Ky., where he was attached to the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division during the Korean War. Providentially, the night before Dr. Platt was scheduled to be deployed to Korea where the war was winding down - and had already had his farewell party - he received orders that he would not have to go. By 23, he was a board-certified anesthesiologist.

Dr. Platt and his wife, Jo Ann, came to Alton from New York. There he had been co-chief of the Anesthesia Department at Knickerbocker Hospital and the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, where he had practiced with world renowned eye surgeon, Dr. Ramon Castroviejo. In 1954, the Platts were on vacation in a swing through the Midwest when they decided to stop in Alton. Dr. Platt inquired about a position that was open for a board certified anesthesiologist at Alton Memorial Hospital.

They liked the hospital and the community. The feeling was mutual and would last for 48 years.

A Man Of Many Firsts

Throughout his tenure at the hospital, Dr. Platt, brought "firsts" to the Alton region, a cutting-edge knowledge Dr. Cornell admired and praised.

"Dan introduced essentially all anesthesia monitoring techniques to our community," Dr. Cornell said. "He was just technically amazing."

Dr. Platt introduced endotracheal anesthesia in 1955, a safer alternative to ether for nose and throat procedures. That same year, he helped open the area's first surgical recovery room at Alton Memorial and performed pain management work that was being done nowhere else in the area. That, in turn, helped to attract more orthopedic surgeons.

He instituted caudal anesthesia, a form of epidural anesthesia, which could be given to women earlier in labor and reduced spinal headaches. He was the first to introduce closed-chest cardiac massage - later known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR - in the Alton area, and taught the new lifesaving procedure to the hospital's medical staff.

Dr. Platt also established the first coronary care room, later known as an intensive care unit, or ICU, at Alton Memorial. At the time, Barnes Hospital in St. Louis was the only other hospital in the region with a similar concept.

In the 1960's, Dr. Platt introduced Alton Memorial's first heart monitor, a gift from the American Heart Association. He performed the first cardioversion procedures in Alton to correct irregular heart rhythms, and in the mid-80s, he worked to open the Alton area's first ambulatory surgery center at Alton Memorial.

In addition to this work at the hospital, Dr. Platt served in several administrative and teaching capacities. In the 1970s, he was chief of staff at Alton Memorial, an instructor of anesthesiology at Washington University and adjunct clinical professor of anesthesiology at Southern Illinois University School of Dentistry. In addition to Alton Memorial, for several years, Dr. Platt ran other anesthesiology departments, including St. Joseph's Hospital (St. Claire's) and St. Anthony's Health Center.

Dr. Platt received numerous civic awards, including the Chairman's Award from Alton Memorial Hospital in 1992. He had also served as a member of the Order of the Veiled Prophet.

An All-around Champion

Incredibly, Dr. Platt also found time for other interests. A champion tennis player who had won the Davis Cup Junior Doubles Championship of the East Coast as a boy, he continued to play tennis until triple bypass surgery sidelined him in 1995.

"I know it almost killed him to stop playing tennis, but he never complained," said Carol Platt Liebau, Dr. Platt's daughter. "He was really good."

He was also, Liebau said, a wonderful, loving father and a wonderful example.

"Dad's work, his family and his tennis were his life," Liebau said. "He will be remembered most for how he cared for his patients and his commitment to excellence in the practice of medicine."

"Nobody has done as much for the hospital as Dr. Platt," said Paul Lauschke, president of the Alton Memorial's board of directors, in a statement. "He has been the leading force that set the pace for all surgical procedures at Alton Memorial. The plaque in the lobby says it all - a gifted man, consummate physician, an outstanding example for all."

The plaque referred to by Lauschke was the one made of bronze and placed adjacent to the bust of Dr. Platt in the hospital's main lobby upon his retirement in 2002. The hospital also honored him by rededicating the surgical/emergency building as the Daniel W. Platt Building.

Fittingly, the building will be the place for Dr. Platt's memorial service.

Dr. Platt was preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Jo Ann Haynes Platt, who died last Oct. 27. The Platts, who had lived in Ladue for more than 20 years after moving from Alton, were longtime members of the Church of St. Michael & St. George in Clayton. For the past year, Dr. Platt had lived at The Gatesworth.

He was also preceded in death by his parents, Martin and Libbie Platt.

In addition to his daughter Carol and her husband F. Jack Liebau of San Marino, Calif., Dr. Platt is survived by two sons and their spouses, Drew Wall and Kristin Platt of Houston, Texas, and Brett Haynes and Mariela Platt of London, England. Dr. Platt is also survived by seven grandchildren: Anabella Haynes Platt, John Warfield Platt, Henry McCormick Platt, Andrew McCormick Liebau, Elizabeth Andreae Liebau, Abigail Johnson and Elijah Johnson.

Visitation will be 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesday at Lupton Chapel, 7233 Delmar Boulevard. in University City. A memorial service for Dr. Platt will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, in the Daniel W. Platt Building of Alton Memorial Hospital, #1 Memorial Drive, Alton, Ill. 62002. Interment will be private.

Memorials may be sent to the Alton Memorial Health Services Foundation at Alton Memorial Hospital.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.