Dr. Robert Kacmarek, RRT, PhD: A titan in the respiratory care profession crosses over
By Emmanuel Rivera, RRT
Sat, 10 Apr 2021
Dr. Robert Michael Kacmarek PhD, RRT, FCCM, FCCP, FAARC, age 72 of Littleton, Massachusetts, passed away peacefully at his home on Thursday, April 1, 2021 surrounded by his loving family.
In our lifetime, it is likely that we (or someone we love) will be on mechanical ventilation---the most critical form of life support or its gentler sibling NPPV---non-invasive positive pressure ventilation.
It was Dr. Robert Kacmarek who first developed a quick-guide mechanical ventilator reference for RT's, RCP’s and physicians on the how to set modes, pressures, volumes and flows to achieve the best patient outcomes.
"Every ventilator at Mass Gen and Harvard Med has one of these. I am glad you have your version," he once told me after one of the many AARC International Congress---American Association for Respiratory Care---conventions I’ve attended.
I finally got to give him our home-grown version of Lung Protective Ventilation we fondly call “The Blue Sheet” and a PDF version of my presentation on LPV and synchrony ---in line with his maxim that every ventilator breath (delivered by way of an artificial airway or with a mask) should match and be in synchrony with the patient's needs and efforts. Likewise, the tidal volume (i.e. amount of air per breath) should be kept in the range of 4-8 milliliters per kilogram of predicted body weight.
The goal is to utilize best evidence-based practice in guiding our respiratory decisions and enhance the patient's chances for survival by minimizing and mitigating the risks associated with artificial airways and continuous positive pressure mechanical ventilation.
We, as respiratory therapists, who work alongside pulmonologists, anesthesiologists, cardio-thoracic surgeons, cardio-pulmonary specialists and the multidisciplinary team, owe Mr. Robert Kacmarek a debt of gratitude.
He leaves behind a lasting legacy as researcher, innovator, educator, leader by example and mentor to many in and beyond the world of respiratory therapy.
"You are the expert on respiratory care, and you will be expected to share your expertise. If no one asks for your opinion then you are not necessary," he once challenged his fellow respiratory therapists.
Dr. Robert Michael Kacmarek---the former orderly-oxygen technician-respiratory care practitioner, who along the way became a doctor of psychology and then professor of anesthesiolgy at Harvard Medical School will be missed.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio on February 5, 1949, Robert (Bob) was the son of the late George Sr. and Irene (Horkavy) Kacmarek. Raised and educated in Chicago, Illinois Bob attended Saint Lawrence High School and graduated in 1967. He went on to attend Albert Lea College, University of Chicago, and earned his PhD in Psychology from Northwestern University where he also began his career as a registered respiratory therapist in 1973.
In 1984 at the age of 35, Bob was recruited to Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) as Director of Respiratory Care. Under his leadership the Respiratory Care Services grew from an initial dozen therapists to the nearly hundred in the department today.
Bob's academic interest was centered on mechanical ventilation and respiratory physiology. He was among the first to test unconventional ventilation methods including liquid ventilation, high frequency oscillation, tracheal gas insufflation, and ECMO, and he helped to define the role of inhaler drugs including bronchodilators and pulmonary vasodilators (i.e., nitric oxide). Most recently he designed ventilators to optimize and automate controlled ventilation and ventilator weaning that were successfully used at MGH during the COVID-19 pandemic. He directed an active laboratory at MGH and trained more than 50 international fellows, many of whom are now leaders in respiratory medicine in their respective countries. He published more than 300 papers in peer reviewed literature, in addition to over 50 book chapters, and edited or co-edited 20 books.
In 2002, Bob became Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School. Bob was a great and resolute educator, spending time to teach at any level - on a 1:1 basis, in a small classroom, or in large international auditoriums. He loved academic discussions and teaching. Bob was passionate about the respiratory care department at MGH and shaped the development of hundreds of respiratory therapists, many of whom are now leading respiratory care in academic institutions as well as industry. Bob was a true leader and respected by everyone at MGH. He always led by example and challenged others around him to be the best they can be.
In an interview discussing the careers of respiratory therapists, he kindly and humbly, but decisively invites future respiratory therapists to follow his example.
"Do not be afraid to take risks, to extend yourself beyond your perceived limits. Nothing will be achieved without a willingness to take that risk. If you are willing to work hard you do not have to be the smartest in the room. I am not, and for my entire career I have not been the brightest in the room, but I have worked harder than anyone else in the room!" (The Coalition Chronicle August 2017).
He was the recipient of numerous awards and just recently was awarded a Lifetime Membership to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the California State Society of Respiratory Care, as well as a statute from the California Senate.
Aside from his career, Bob enjoyed traveling, experiencing new cultures, watching football and cooking. A beloved father and grandfather, Bob's greatest joy in life was his family. He was a dear friend and colleague and will be deeply missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.
He is arguably the best-known and most respected respiratory therapist in the world.
In addition to his fiancé Cristina, Bob is survived by his children: Julia Kacmarek and fiance David Lombardo of Canton, Katie (Kacmarek) Johnson and husband James of Lowell, and Callie Kacmarek of Littleton, his siblings; George Kacmarek and wife Marykay of Chicago, IL, Mark Kacmarek and wife Celine of St. Louis, MO, Jeff Kacmarek and wife Kerstin of Ann Arbor, MI, and Deborah Kacmarek of Santa Rosa, CA. Bob is also survived by his two grandchildren, Avery and Adrienne. In addition to his parents, Bob is sadly predeceased in life by his son Robert Scott.
Family and friends will gather to honor and remember Bob for a period of visitation on Saturday, April 10, 2021 from 10:30 am until 1:00 pm in the Badger Funeral Home, 347 King Street, Littleton.
A graveside service will be held following the visitation at 1:30 pm at Westlawn Cemetery, 7 New Estate Road, Littleton.
The graveside service will also be livestreamed for those unable to attend beginning at 1:30 pm EST.
To attend Robert's service remotely please use the link below:
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Bob's memory to https://giving.massgeneral.org/donate/robertkacmare
Source and reference:
Our condolences to the Kacmarek family. His wonderful words of wisdom will always ring true. The last time we talked on November 9, 2019 at the wee hours of the morn in New Orleans, Louisiana, I recited his quote from way back, “If no one asks for your opinion then you are not necessary.” I will treasure the “Please, don’t smoke” video message for those who smoke and the ones thinking of starting the use of tobacco.
The signed boxing gloves are from the Philippine boxing community I humbly write for. It tickled me when I found out he once visited the Philippines as a lecturer and a tourist. He also enjoyed watching the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ live via satellite and that he was a fan of Manny Pacquiao.
Keep on punchin’, Doc! See you again sometime…
(L-R) Emmanuel Rivera, BS, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS and the late Dr. Robert Kacmarek, PhD, FCCM, FCCP, FAARC
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