Remembering David S. Warner, MD: Our Friend


William L. Lanier, MD
Emeritus Professor of Anesthesiology
Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, USA 

Michael M. Todd, MD
Professor & Vice Chair for Research, Department of Anesthesiology
University of Minnesota School of Medicine, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Professor Emeritus, Dept of Anesthesia,
University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, IA, USA

David S. Warner, MD

Just about everyone associated with the Society for Neuroscience in Anesthesiology and Critical Care (SNACC) knew David S. Warner, M.D. – “Dave” to most of us – and a lot of us knew him very well. Unfortunately, Dave died on December 5, 2021, after a 20-month battle with brain cancer. Dave was elected SNACC president in 1994 and was instrumental in moving SNACC through a period of great turmoil; he deserves a great deal of credit for the strong society that we all know today. In this tribute, we remember Dave as a close friend of ours…and to so many of you.

Dave Warner had an interesting background. His dad was an Episcopal Bishop, and the lives of his parents undoubtedly informed Dave’s commitment to service and his unwavering moral character. After medical school in Madison, WI, he began a residency in the University of Iowa Department of Neurosurgery. But during a mandatory anesthesia rotation, he fell in love with the field of anesthesiology and its practitioners. He once said to Bill Lanier, “To my complete surprise, I found that I was immediately drawn to the personalities of the anesthesiologists and their love of using core principles in physiology, pharmacology, and anatomy to solve problems daily.”[1]  After 1.5 years of neurosurgery residency, he transferred to the Department of Anesthesia, a move that he described as “a match made in heaven.”1  It’s worth noting that his Department of Neurosurgery chair, John C. VanGilder, M.D., never held his departure against Dave but instead took great pride in their decades-long relationship, first as teacher-student and later as faculty-level colleagues. Well after achieving worldwide recognition for his contributions to anesthesiology and neuroscience, Dave, during his speech to commemorate winning the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Excellence in Research Award, specifically acknowledged the great contribution that Dr. VanGilder had made to his career.

Dave’s move into the academic world was engineered by his anesthesia chair, John H. Tinker, M.D., who largely coerced Dave into doing a research fellowship in Lund, Sweden, with Bo K. Siesjo, M.D., Ph.D., the world’s foremost authority in brain metabolism.1 For the rest of his life, Dave never stopped making fond comments about the extraordinary experience he had there.

Dave returned to Iowa to join the Department of Anesthesia faculty, and shortly thereafter, Dr. Tinker started recruiting Mike Todd to join the Iowa neuroanesthesiology effort. Todd first met Dave for breakfast in a cheap hotel in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the ASA and immediately thought, “This is the beginning of a wonderful friendship.”  For the next 8 years, Todd and Warner occupied adjacent desks in their new laboratory in Iowa City, Iowa. The things they accomplished, and the highlights of their time together, are discussed in the recent Anesthesiology Classic Papers Revisited article that they jointly authored shortly before Dave’s passing.[2]

Eventually, the time came (as it often does in academics) for Dave to depart his “home institution” and strike out on his own, moving to Duke University in 1994. Such moves can be dangerous:  Without both the right environment and enthusiastic colleagues, a promising research career can rapidly atrophy. Not this time! Almost immediately, Dave began to build one of the foremost neuroanesthesia research laboratories in the world – a laboratory that continues to this day. New colleagues, new methodologies, new science – within a few years his work was clearly exceeding what he had done at the University of Iowa.

In addition to his impressive laboratory investigations, Dave remained active in clinical neuroanesthesiology, working regularly in the operating room during the entirety of his career at the University of Iowa and most of his career at Duke University. Reframed, he never ceased to be what we like to call “a regular old anesthesiologist.”

In Bill Lanier’s indexed tribute to Dave’s life, published in the Journal of Neurosurgical Anesthesiology1, he cites over 30 National Institutes of Health-funded grants with continuous, uninterrupted support for 30 years, in addition to other grants from the ASA, American Heart Association, and industry. In recognition of Dave’s many accomplishments in biomedical research, the ASA awarded him its prestigious Excellence in Research Award in 2005. In another domain, SNACC presented him the Distinguished Service Award in 2011. In 2012, Duke University bestowed upon Dave an endowed professorship, the Distinguished University Professor of Anesthesiology, which Duke has described as “one of the highest honors in academia.”1 Duke University’s support of Dave Warner proved a great investment: He made many of his most consequential discoveries while on the Duke University faculty, and his enthusiasm was such that he continued working in his laboratory until only weeks before his death.

What an incredibly well-lived life! In addition to being a scientist and a clinician, he was a sailor and a long-distance runner (He was running almost to the end of his life). To quote Bill Lanier1:  “David Warner, MD, will be missed by many as a friend and shining light in the world of neuroanesthesiology and neuroscience. He had a clear head and a pure heart, and he exemplified the type of person we all should desire to be. He lifted up those around him, and he enjoyed basking in the spotlight-reflections off of­ his mentees, collaborators, and friends. He is survived by his best friend and wife of 41 years, Rose Warner; a daughter, Lindsay Warner, DVM; and a son, Seth Warner. Members of our neuroanesthesiology­ community are encouraged to keep Dr. Warner and his family members in your thoughts and prayers.

[1] Lanier W.  Celebrating the life of David S. Warner, MD: Influential academic physician, scientist, mentor, and friend. J Neurosurg Anesthesiol. 2022;34(2):164-167.

[2]Warne r DS, Todd MM. A beautiful friendship – and a lesson about friends and colleagues: A classic partnership revisited. 2022. Anesthesiology. 2022;136: 176-180. 


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