Francis Fontan

Francis Fontan

EACTS mourns the passing of our founding father, the first president and guiding spirit of the association. Francis Fontan was born 1929 in the city of Ney, in the province of Béarn. He started his medical studies in Bordeaux and began his surgical education (“internat”) in 1952. Trained both in surgery and in cardiology (he was a staff member in cardiology department, probably the only surgeon in those times with this experience), he started his surgical training with Georges Dubourg and continued at the University of Bordeaux, where he became full professor and chief of cardiac surgery at CHU de Bordeaux in Hôpital cardiologique de Haut-Lévêque in Bordeaux-Pessac.

Francis Fontan’s name will always remain connected with the operation he designed to treat tricuspid atresia. This innovative operation bears today his name, the Fontan procedure. After a series of (unsuccessful) animal experiments, this operation was first performed in a 12 year old patient, who survived after a stormy postoperative course. His first two patients were described in a French journal (Ann.Chir.Thorac. Langue Francais) in 1971, and were followed by his first English presentation of 13 cases in Thorax in the same year. This procedure, with its numerous modifications, remains today the mainstay of surgical treatment of various congenital anomalies where biventricular repair is not possible.

In the early eighties of the last century, Francis Fontan became disappointed with the scientific level of cardiosurgical meetings in Europe, where the nationality of presenters seemed to be more important than their scientific achievements, and he recruited a group of younger academic surgeons to create a new, European organisation for presenting and publishing scientific research originating in Europe. The first meeting of the new organisation, European Association of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, was held in Vienna in 1987, and became a huge success. Within a few years, the majority of European cardio-thoracic surgeons joined this association, which today organises scientific meetings with the highest professional attendance world-wide, and publishes 3 scientific journals which successfully compete with their American counterparts. Francis Fontan always considered the creation of EACTS to be his most important accomplishment.

Marko Turina
Zurich, Switzerland