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Remembering Graham Ramsay, Surviving Sepsis Campaign Leader and ESICM President

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Richard J. Beale, Julian F. Bion, R Phillip Dellinger, Mitchell M. Levy, Deborah L. McBride, and Francesca Rubulotta contributed to this article.

Graham Ramsay, MD, one of the founding leaders of the Surviving Sepsis Campaign (SSC), died on September 7, 2018, at age 63, in Stockport, England, following a long illness. Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, to David and Eileen Ramsay, he and his sister grew up on the east coast of Scotland near Edinburgh. He is survived by his cherished daughter Ashley Celot and grandson Gabriel Celot of London and sister Beverley Warricker of Canterbury.

As Julian Bion, MD, professor of intensive care medicine, University of Birmingham—and, like Graham, a past president of the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine (ESICM)—stated on the ESICM website, “Graham was an exceptionally hard-working, creative and collaborative leader who was capable of taking difficult decisions while respecting and supporting the views of others. A compassionate and caring doctor, he transformed the lives of his patients and acted as an important role model to his junior colleagues.”

A graduate of the University of Dundee Medical School, he pursued specialty training in surgery at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow. As a student of Iain Ledingham, MD, on the Shock Team, his research training, combined with emergency and intensive care medicine, launched his lifelong interest in surgical infection and its management, leading to multiple contributions to research, critical care, education, professional leadership, and hospital management.

Moving from clinical academic appointments in the UK, in 1993 Graham accepted a position as professor and chief of intensive care at the University Hospital in Maastricht, Netherlands. His hallmark was to foster a multidisciplinary approach to the provision of critical care. As the first surgeon in that role, he introduced the concept of a team of anesthesiologists, internists, and surgeons truly working together. His leadership interests led him to obtain additional education in management from Harvard University in 2002. In 2003 he became the hospital director before returning to the UK in 2006 to take on executive positions in the UK National Health Service. In 2012 he moved to Chesterfield Royal Hospital in Buxton, Derbyshire, before retiring in 2014.

Graham’s dear friend Francesca Rubulotta, MD, consultant and clinical lecturer, Imperial College NHS Trust Division of Surgery, London, recalls fondly, “Graham loved to fly his plane, dive, play tennis, ski, cook, and spend time with his friends and family. He was a doctor, a professor, a businessman, a pilot, a father, a partner, and a lovely friend. He showed intellectual agility and incomparable compassionate love for all he did in his incredible life. To summarize Graham’s input to the intensive care medicine world, I could say, ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.’ Graham Ramsay was a role model and a leader.”

He was an actively contributing member of multiple professional societies, including the Surgical Infection Society (Europe), Dutch Intensive Care Society, Dutch Trauma Society, Dutch Surgical Society, Limburg Society of Intensive Care, Dutch Association of Hospital Directors, and Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM), which awarded him a Presidential Citation in 2000. He was president of ESICM from 2004 to 2006. As head of ESICM’s Division of Professional Development, Graham was instrumental in initiating educational programs including the Patient-Centred Acute Care Training (PACT) program, one of the early distance learning programs in the field.

Among his long-lasting contributions will be his service as one of the original leaders of the SSC. Richard Beale, MD, professor of intensive care medicine at King’s College London and consultant intensivist at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London, describes Graham’s appointing him as one of the ESICM representatives: “I was already working on the Campaign, and knew Graham quite well through ESICM; but, with his typically no-nonsense surgical approach, he was very clear in what he expected during the challenging early days. He was, though, endlessly supportive and wise, and thoroughly principled; and we became great friends. I particularly remember his dry humour, and the way that his face, after looking down at you with great seriousness, would suddenly crinkle into a sparkling grin. It is a great sadness to me that he has been taken too early, and I shall miss him.”

As his SSC co-leaders Mitchell M. Levy, MD, professor of medicine, Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and R. Phillip Dellinger, MD, professor of medicine and Distinguished Scholar at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, recall, “Who would have figured that a Scotsman, a New Yorker, and a Southerner would find friendship and professional synergy in establishing the campaign? As an initial leader of SSC, Graham, the Scotsman, imbued an unforgettable combination of pragmatism, intelligence, savvy, and humanity into the often-challenging activities of the fledgling campaign. And now Graham is no longer with us. But his memory and his contributions to SSC will live on.”

In 2002, Drs. Levy and Dellinger found themselves working together on a novel mission to create change in the way clinicians addressed sepsis and septic shock. Knowing that it was vital to have the strength of their professional societies behind the cause, they joined Graham in a relationship that considerably enriched their lives personally and professionally.

As they developed strategy and gathered colleagues from around the world to participate in the effort, they effectively became a “band of brothers,” sharing successes and encountering challenges that resulted in published guidelines, quality improvement efforts, increased awareness, and saved lives. The countless hours they spent in meeting rooms, hospital offices, airport lounges, and on conference calls were punctuated by the insightful leadership and keen Glaswegian wit Graham brought to the cause. They felt fortunate to have that common experience.

While all their roles in the SSC evolved and transitioned, it would not exist without the tireless efforts and deep talents of Graham in those early years. The friendship and respect that emerged will provide them with fond memories forever. May you rest in peace, Graham.