Jay Michael Sullivan 936–1999
Jay Michael Sullivan was a gentleman and a scholar. These have been the words used by so many who knew this scientist, teacher, superb clinician, husband, father, and friend when learning of his untimely death. Jay Sullivan died on February 22, 1999, at only 62 years of age, less than two months after experiencing the first manifestations of carcinoma of the pancreas.
Jay Sullivan was born in Brockton, Massachusetts, and grew up in Miami, Florida. He received his bachelor and medical degrees from Georgetown University, where he was valedictorian of his medical school class, graduating in 1962. He then went to Boston, near his birthplace, and spent 12 years at Harvard Medical School and Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, where he did his internship and residency in medicine and was Chief Resident in Medicine and a Cardiology fellow. He also had a two-year preceptorship in biological chemistry. In 1970, he joined the Harvard faculty for four years as an Assistant Professor of Medicine. During this time, he was also Director of the Hypertension Unit at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and in 1973–74, he was Director of Medical Services at the Boston Hospital for Women.
One of us (M.L.T.) had the privilege to work under Jay Sullivan as one of his first fellows in his early faculty years at Harvard Medical School, at the beginning of what was to become an extraordinary career in academic medicine. During my fellowship at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, I (M.L.T.) selected to work with him from among several outstanding faculty members. Jay epitomized what was to me the very best example of all I hoped for in medicine. He was extremely bright, energetic, and full of new ideas for research. But, above these gifts, there was a person whom I could follow around all day to absorb the subtle aspects of his in-depth knowledge and to learn how one should deal with difficult human situations. He was also able to transform complex clinical research into an esteemed scientific pursuit that was fun and challenging. Jay was keen to discover in man what was the early fundamental cause of essential hypertension. We embarked on finding young individuals with new onset hypertension, and the professional schools at Harvard University provided a rich source of participants who were happy to enter the Clinical Research Center for two weeks of gourmet (high and low salt) food along with lots of attention, sympathy, and testing. In completing these studies, Dr. Sullivan was one of the first to describe the early hemodynamic, renal, and hormonal changes in new onset hypertension. From these early studies came the concept of nonmodulating hypertension later championed by his colleagues Norman Hollenberg and Gordon Williams. In other studies with Richard Gorlin, Jay described the use of antiplatelet agents for the prevention of thromboembolic disorders after valvular heart surgery in The New England Journal of Medicine and published one of the first papers on platelet dysfunction in coronary heart disease. His work on the effects of epinephrine on the coronary circulation in patients with and without coronary disease provided the background for later demonstration in the laboratory that areas of myocardium that appear mechanically quiescent can, when stimulated, exhibit contractile activity, foreshadowing the subsequent concept of “hibernating myocardium.”
In 1974, Jay was recruited to the University of Tennessee, Memphis, as Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases. He also assumed the position of Director of the Cardiology Fellowship Program, and he maintained these responsibilities until his death. He continued his interests in factors that determined the onset of hypertension. In the area of salt-sensitive hypertension, he made some of the fundamental observations on how age, ethnicity, and other factors determined whether blood pressure in an individual would be responsive to environmental influences. Among his many other interests and projects over the years, he continued to study and to write extensively on sodium-sensitive hypertension, hoping to fulfill his dream of detecting those early, elusive factors that are at the underpinnings of essential hypertension. He was considered one of the top experts in the field of salt sensitivity and particularly described that sodium-sensitive individuals respond to high sodium intake with either vasoconstriction or inadequate vasodilatation.
Although he continued his work on salt sensitivity and hypertension, in more recent years he also became internationally known as an authority in the management of cardiac disease in women, especially the relationship between postmenopausal estrogen use and cardiovascular disease. He has also trained approximately 90 Cardiology fellows and taught and was respected by a generation of medical students and residents. Jay was very active for over 20 years in the American Heart Association and his service included President of the Memphis and Tennessee Chapters, chairman of numerous local and state committees, and participant on several committees of the Council for High Blood Pressure Research. His community service and professional accomplishments are far more extensive than what can be mentioned in this forum, but he always had the energy and willingness to serve others.
Jay was one of the kindest, most genteel, warm, and understanding persons and physicians we have known. He was a physician’s physician. His place in medicine and with his family is clearly established. He is survived by his wife, Suzy, three children, and two grandchildren. Jay Sullivan represented what is the very best in our profession and his death is a loss to the field of hypertension. For those wishing to contribute something in his memory, the Jay Michael Sullivan Endowment Fund at the University of Tennessee, Memphis, has been established to honor this beloved colleague.
What more can one say except that the entire hypertension community and family shall miss Jay’s warm relationship and collegiality. Already, the Journal misses his counsel and advice.