Face Value: Merel Harmel

October 1, 2003

Merel Harmel

Professor emeritus and founding chairman of the department of anesthesiology, co-inventor of the first worldwide computerized vital-signs monitoring system, advocate of resident and medical-student teaching, former president of the Friends of the Art Museum Board, founding member of the Duke Gardens Advisory Board

Describe yourself in three words:

Problem-solver, happy disposition

Describe Duke in three words:

Beautiful, intellectual environment

Why Duke?

I was at the University of Chicago and came for a visit. I saw the campus. I met the people. That was all it took.

What one thing would you change about Duke?

One of the great satisfactions for me when I came here was that because the department was not so large, we had a greater sense of family. But I recognize that you cannot go back, and at the Duke of today there is the extraordinary promise of new ventures in medicine.

Merel Harmel


photo by Chris Hildreth

Who is your favorite person?

My wife, Dr. Ernestine Friedl [professor emerita of cultural anthropology and a former dean of Trinity College and of the faculty of arts and sciences]. She is just a beautiful, lovely person, whom everybody adores.

What do you value?

I value my family and the great love we share.... I value the opportunity I have been given by Duke to continue to be of service and the marvelous experience of teaching the "Practice Course," an introduction to clinical medicine for first- and second-year medical students.

In his words:

Research has always been very important to me. I had the great fortune of working in places that were supportive of it and with people who contributed so much to my growth.

When I was very young, an uncle of mine, who was a physiologist, made a great impression on me. From the age of five, I was going to be a doctor and I was going to operate like my uncle.

I started out as a surgical house officer at Johns Hopkins with plans of going into neurosurgery. During my first year of medical school I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. So, it didn't seem that continuing with surgery would be desirable. But I had to rotate through anesthesia, and I met the head of the department, who offered me a post as a resident. I took it, and it was during that time, working under Dr. [Alfred] Blalock [one of the two physicians who developed the "blue baby" operation], that I had the extraordinary experience of being the first to anesthetize a blue baby, a child afflicted by a fatal heart malformation. The operation--making a bypass for the blood to get to the lung--had never been done. This was a very dramatic procedure, a world event. It was 1944 and people came from all over the world to see Dr. Blalock operate. That colored my career, you could say.

A joint project of University Photography and Duke Magazine, Face Value is an evolving gallery of portraits displayed in Perkins Library and represented in the magazine.
By capturing these individuals in images and words, the project celebrates some of the staff, faculty, and students whose contributions define a diverse community. Portrait by Chris Hildreth