Loring Withee Pratt, MD, FACS 1918–2012


  • Kenneth Grundfast MD, Chairman

    1. Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
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Like so many of his friends and neighbors, Loring Pratt cherished the rustic beauty of his surroundings in Maine. To the folks in the town of Waterville, where he practiced otolaryngology for more than 40 years, he might have seemed to be just the amiable, always available, knowledgeable, and adept ear, nose, and throat doctor who could remove children's tonsils, and fix injuries of and remove cancers from the head and neck. However, Dr. Pratt was much more. He was a brilliant, dignified, yet humble man with a keen sense of humor, a man who accomplished a lot in his 93 years of life. He was fond of wearing bowties that often were handmade by family and friends who gave them to him as gifts, but when he went to medical meetings he could usually be seen wearing a necktie that had on it the insignia of the dome of Johns Hopkins Hospital where he had gone to medical school, done his residency in otolaryngology, and where he came to join the faculty after he had retired from private practice. Hopkins was also where Loring had met his wife, Jeanette, a nurse. During their 67 years of marriage they had nine children, 26 grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren.

Dr. Pratt was a man of many talents. He was a keen observer of people and of plants. He was a naturalist and a nurturer who could grow plants in his hot house even in the midst of severe Maine winters, or during the summer in the elaborate garden adjacent to his house that he tended so carefully. In recent years he became a master gardener, joyfully learning the genus and species of everything that grows. He was an excellent photographer, as comfortable taking close-up photos of mushrooms and fauna as he was snapping pictures to document unusual cases he encountered in his practice or intricate anatomy uncovered during surgical cases. He derived satisfaction from solving medical problems. Although his erudite Triological Society thesis titled “Equilibratory Illusions in Aviation” might have been difficult for an average otolaryngologist to comprehend, his lectures and poster presentations explaining how to manage the chain saw injuries he had seen so frequently in his practice taught otolaryngologists everywhere how to manage the devastating anatomic disruptions that could occur when a dangerous saw slipped out of the firm grip of its user.

Long before continuing medical education courses became commonplace, Dr. Pratt established the annual Frederick T. Hill summer otolaryngology seminars on the campus of Colby College in Waterville. The invited faculty always included the greatest and best-known otolaryngologists, who gave talks on the latest innovations and discoveries in otolaryngology, and each seminar concluded with an outdoor lobster picnic. As these Frederick T. Hill seminars became increasingly popular, Dr. Pratt became widely recognized as a small town otolaryngologist who had accomplished the nearly astonishing feat of having created a valuable resource for the education of otolaryngologists. However, when the hubbub of each summer seminar was over, Dr. Pratt went back to his office practice to take care of patients. One of the most remarkable things he did occurred when he had taken care of the daughter of one of his closest friends. He had done a tonsillectomy on the young girl, and then 10 days after the surgery she had a massive hemorrhage and died. Dr. Pratt was stricken with inconsolable grief. Perhaps because of his innate tendency to always strive to make things better, his grief in part became inquisitiveness, prompting him at his own expense to undertake a nationwide survey. Dr. Pratt mailed a letter to all 3,617 board-certified otolaryngologists, asking each physician to answer questions about their own complications from tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy (T&A) surgery. His survey achieved a response rate of 40% and yielded information sufficient for Dr. Pratt to calculate the incidence in the United States of intraoperative and postoperative hemorrhage as well as the mortality following T&A surgery. The results of Dr. Pratt's extensive survey were published in 1970 in the Transactions of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology, thereby providing otolaryngologists with more information than they ever had before on the incidence and causes of post-tonsillectomy bleeding.

Dr. Pratt was a leader. He served as a regent of the American College of Surgeons, and when the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery was formed in 1981, Dr. Pratt became the first president of the new organization. He was a president of the American Bronchoesophagological Association, the American Head and Neck Surgery Society, the New England Otolaryngology Society, and a vice president of the Eastern Section of the Triological Society. He published more than 90 reports in medical journals, including his report on the history of tracheotomy that was featured with an illustration on the front cover of The Laryngoscope in 2008. He was one of the first American physicians to travel to China, and he returned four times as a goodwill ambassador. Dr. Loring Pratt lived a long life filled with happiness and professional satisfaction.

Although some might say that he was a lucky man, there are reasons why so much good fortune came his way. Dr. Pratt was a giver. He gave kindness to others. He was a loving husband, a supportive father, and a graceful caregiver to those in his family and in his community who were in need. He would help anyone with anything that he could provide. Someone once said that we really only have in life what we give away. That seems counter-intuitive—until you ponder the concept. The tangible things that we are able to amass can be lost in an instant, but everlasting and deeply satisfying to Loring Pratt must have been the heartfelt admiration of others that was always his, the enormous respect that he earned from his service to people and organizations, and the multitude of family and friends who were grateful for what he had imparted to them. His was a life well lived and a life to be emulated.