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Frank E. Johnson, M.D.: 1943-2018

Frank E. Johnson, M.D., a professor emeritus of surgery at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, died Thursday, Aug. 9. He was 74.

A surgical oncologist, Dr. Johnson joined Saint Louis University School of Medicine as an assistant professor of surgery in 1979. He cared for patients at what is now SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital and went on to become chief of surgery at John Cochran VA Medical Center. He retired in 2016.

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Frank E. Johnson, M.D.

“During that time, he distinguished himself for developing collegial communication and fellowship between the surgeons of Washington University and Saint Louis University who worked at the VA,” said Charles Andrus, M.D., professor of surgery at SLU who was a close friend.

Dr. Johnson received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He trained as a resident at the University of Washington, Seattle and the University of Colorado, Denver.  Dr. Johnson was a research fellow at the University of California, San Francisco, and completed a fellowship in surgical oncology from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Dr. Johnson was a well-respected scholar, clinician and teacher. He was the author of more than 50 peer-reviewed publications and numerous book chapters and served on the editorial board of at least eight medical journals. He was the son of a physician, his wife is a nurse and all four of his children are doctors.

“Frank had an enthusiasm for academics, research and teaching. He tremendously enjoyed interacting with surgery residents and students, instilling in them his love for science and medicine,” Andrus said.

“He spent countless hours working with medical students and residents in developing clinical research projects, which have been published and presented throughout the country and world. He touched a tremendous number of lives through his cancer research and cared for his cancer patients, always with a smile.”

A research pioneer, during the 1990s, he used computer-based data sets – or “big data” to evaluate patient outcomes, risks and treatment options for various disorders or to perform cost benefit analyses.

He published multiple articles on pancreatic, anal and rectal and gastric cancer using the administrative databases of the VA medical system. His bench research focused on opioid receptors in human cancers and PET scans in people who had surgical wound pain.

"Frank Johnson was one of the most intelligent and focused surgeons with whom I've ever worked.  His blend of cognitive preparation and technical mastery maximized the chances for his patients’ surgical outcomes,” said Keith S. Naunheim, M.D., the Vallee L. and Melba Willman Professor of surgery and director of the division of cardiothoracic surgery at SLU.

“Superficially, Frank appeared to be quiet, reserved, and somewhat intense.  But underneath there was a wry sense of humor as well as a profound and selfish desire to share his knowledge.  Those attributes made Dr. Johnson a skilled and effective teacher who, during his career, helped trained hundreds of budding surgeons.  On a personal level, I have never encountered a more devoted husband or loving father than Frank Johnson. Truly his was a life well lived." 

Dr. Johnson is survived by his wife Tami; their children, Mariko, Michael, Eric and David; four grandchildren and two sisters.

A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 18 at Bopp Chapel, preceded by visitation at 3 p.m.