Retired Professor, Surgeon Invests in School of Medicine

The son of teachers in Shelby, North Carolina, Joe Craver collected perfect grades like baseball cards. As a young physician in training, he embraced the objectivity and superior results of heart surgery. In mentoring younger surgeons, he came to realize his own talent as a teacher, and education became his great passion.

Now retired after three decades as an Emory professor and cardiac surgeon, Craver is perpetuating his contributions to surgical education at Emory School of Medicine. Through a charitable trust, he is funding a visiting lectureship, a teaching award, and an endowed chair.

A tax-wise strategy, the trust provides him with income for life and creates a generous remainder gift to Emory. Sharing knowledge with other physicians creates a lasting professional legacy, Craver says. “Teaching is a great calling and should be rewarded. It’s a major part of what Emory is."

Craver joined the medical staff of Emory University Hospital in 1974, attracted by a position in academic heart surgery with a strong clinical component. The 1970s were a pioneering era for heart surgery. At Emory, Craver played a key role expanding and strengthening cardiac surgical patient care, clinical research, and advancing Emory’s cardiothoracic surgery training program.  

Among Emory’s new capabilities at that time were coronary angiography and coronary artery bypass surgery, improved valve substitutes and repair techniques, and the early recognition of the importance of intraoperative protection and preservation of the heart muscle. “Understanding how better to preserve the muscle of the heart during open heart surgery became a pillar of Emory’s success,” Craver explains.

In the three decades before he retired in 2005, he surgically repaired the hearts of more than 11,000 patients and taught more than 85 cardiac surgical fellows the skills and art of heart surgery. He also performed Georgia’s first minimally invasive, direct coronary artery bypass (“keyhole”) surgery. This innovative technique evolved into procedures that currently shorten hospitals stays, reduce patient recovery time, and lower cost.

Craver is known for his candor, passionate concern, work ethic, and insistence on excellence. He credits his fellow colleagues in cardiac surgery, cardiology, and anesthesiology for making Emory one of the nation’s top five hospitals in cardiac surgical care and resident education. His own leadership and dedication have secured his place among the architects of Emory’s success in heart care.

February 2010