Research Horizons


In Memorium: George Benzing III, MD, 1926-2020

Benzing was a key member of the team that conducted the first heart transplant at Cincinnati Children’s in 1968

George Benzing III, MD, passed away on May 29, at the age of 93. Though he departed from this world quietly, he managed to make a huge impact while he lived.

Benzing was born on November 18, 1926, in Dayton, Ky. to George Benzing Jr., MD, a radiologist, and Ester Rudder Benzing. The family, which grew to include his younger sister, Elizabeth, later moved to a farm on Mack Road in Fairfield Township, Ohio.

After graduating from Glendale High School in 1944, Benzing joined the Army during World War II. He was stationed in the Philippines for part of that time and was promoted to staff sergeant before being honorably discharged in 1946.

When he returned home, Benzing focused on his education, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Cincinnati in 1950 and his MD from the UC College of Medicine in 1958. Following a one-year internship at Cincinnati’s General Hospital, he decided to go into pediatrics and completed his residency at Cincinnati Children’s in 1961. Afterward, he did his pediatric cardiology fellowship at Cincinnati Children’s under Sam Kaplan, MD, from 1961-64.

Always an Innovator

“Dr. Benzing was largely responsible for developing critical care services at Cincinnati Children’s,” said Hector Wong, MD, interim chair of Pediatrics. “The Pediatric Intensive Care Unit that we have today reflects his leadership.”

In fact, Benzing founded the first four-bed Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Cincinnati Children’s in 1968. He then served as the medical director of the Intensive Care Unit from 1972 until his “retirement” in 1998.

Early in his career, Benzing spent a lot of time studying ventricular function and strokes. He was especially interested in myocardial preservation during open-heart surgery.

“As a result of his work, Dr. Benzing was able to accurately determine how long the heart could survive without oxygenation,” said Michelle French, MD, a physician in Neonatology and Pulmonary Biology. “With this information, he discovered ways to circumvent heart muscle damage during coronary artery cross-clamping.”

Benzing was a key member of the team that conducted the first heart transplant at Cincinnati Children’s in 1968, along with Drs. Sam Kaplan, Jim Helmsworth, Wes Alexander and Bob Fullam. He also was integral to the development of cardiopulmonary bypass, holding seven U.S. patents related to cardiovascular support and monitoring.

Said Wong, “Before there were protocols and algorithms to guide clinical care, there were physicians like Dr. Benzing who were fearless and singularly dedicated to the care of sick children. His work ethic was unmatched, as was his humility.”

Sharing Knowledge

Not only was Benzing an excellent researcher and clinician, he was an extraordinary teacher who never stopped listening and learning.

He received the first Outstanding Teacher Award from the Cincinnati Children’s house staff in 1981 and again in 1990. UC medical students chose him as the winner of the Golden Apple Award for being an outstanding pediatric instructor. He was also honored with the Cincinnati Pediatric Society’s Founder’s Award in 1990.

In addition, Cincinnati Children’s established the George Benzing/Ed Lowe Award, which is given annually to recognize outstanding senior residents in critical care medicine.

Benzing officially retired in 1998, but he continued to come in six days a week (seven if he was on service).

“He would look in on CICU patients and inquire about their IV drips and medications,” said Julie Fugazzi, RN. “He was still doing research, recording everything in the little notebook he always carried.”

“I am a congenital heart patient who was treated here as a child, and when I first found out who he was, I got to thinking he more than likely ran the heart bypass machine during my surgery years ago. He had an infectious smile and was immaculately dressed—the ultimate gentleman, Fugazzi added. “On his 85th birthday, we had a party for him in the breakroom. He shared stories of what he’d seen and done. It was an incredible day.”

Benzing served patients and families at Cincinnati Children’s for nearly 54 years.

Said Wong, “Up until March 2015, Dr. Benzing joined rounds every day, and it was always comforting to have his wisdom and counsel nearby. He was instrumental in my early clinical development at Cincinnati Children’s, and for that, I will always be grateful. His dedication and skills in the care of sick children were exemplary. This is his legacy—we should all strive to a bit more like ‘Dr. B.’”

Benzing is survived by his cousin, Norman Bunting, and his nephew, Arthur Schnacke.

–Post written by Cindy Duesing