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Legacy of Dr. Theodore Stanley

Dr. Ted Stanley’s first choice for a career wasn’t medicine. In fact, the surgeon and anesthesiologist wanted to play baseball, specifically, center field for the Brooklyn Dodgers. But after an unsuccessful try-out, Dr. Stanley decided a career in medicine would be an adequate alternative to professional baseball. Luckily for Dr. Stanley, not only was he a great athlete, he also had brains.

Out of the many Ivy Leagues schools Dr. Stanley gained acceptance, he chose Columbia College, a school not too far from his hometown of Brooklyn, New York. With the best of both worlds, he could study zoology, chemistry and music, and play four years on the Columbia College baseball team. He was also a walk-on to the school’s football team. Dr. Stanley stayed on at Columbia to complete his medical degree.  

He had arranged to complete his medical residency at the Cleveland Clinic in 1967 where he would be working with one of the pioneers in artificial organs, the “Father of Artificial Organs,” Dr. Willem Kolff. However, Dr. Kolff unexpectedly resigned from his position at the clinic, leaving Dr. Stanley  without a residency position.  So, after marrying his girlfriend, Dr. Stanley followed Dr. Kolff to the University of Utah in July of 1967. This was the beginning of Dr. Stanley’s dedicated and brilliant 40+ year long career at the University of Utah. Ted never expected to stay so long, but he fell in love with Utah.

Over the course of his storied career, Dr. Stanley was an important leader, inventor, physician and—his most loved role—mentor. As an Assistant Professor of Surgery and Anesthesiology working with Dr. Kolff, Dr. Stanley was part of the team that performed the first total artificial heart transplant in Dr. Barney Clark in 1982.

Dr. Stanley is widely and internationally known for his contributions to the role of opioids in anesthesia practice, particularly as it relates to cardiac anesthesia techniques.  Leveraging a longstanding relationship with Dr. Paul Janssen in Belgium, Dr. Stanley was instrumental in bringing the “fentanyl” family of opioids (i.e., fentanyl, alfentanil, sufentanil) into medical practice.  Because of his notoriety in this effort, to many Ted came to be known as the “father of fentanyl.”

Dr. Stanley is perhaps best known for the "Fentanyl Lollipop” or Actiq, which is a fast acting, convenient, non-invasive opioid delivery system for pain management.  The therapy proved to be an extremely effective and popular method, especially in the treatment of “breakthrough” cancer pain.

The commercial success of the fentanyl lollipop was impressive, providing a royalty stream to the University of Utah and the Department of Anesthesiology that has accumulated into a substantial endowment to support research and education. The Department of Anesthesiology was able to establish numerous endowed chairs from these funds.

Dr. Stanley’s creative genius and energy led to numerous entrepreneurial investigative efforts. He founded several biotech companies while teaching and mentoring numerous engineers and doctors to help further their medical interests in research and medical devices.

Dr. Stanley was loved and admired for his optimism and energy. For Dr. Stanley, each new day was an opportunity for discovery and growth. His charismatic personality made him the spotlight of any gathering. And his infectious charm and enthusiasm inspired others to be their best. Dr. Stanley generously mentored countless faculty and residents, helping them to achieve their career goals and aspirations. His mark on their careers is indelible and far reaching.

The breadth and depth of Dr. Stanley’s legacy as the senior statesmen of the University of Utah Department of Anesthesiology is difficult to assess fully. His academic contributions were legion and his inspiring personal presence was unforgettable. Dr. Stanley was a one of a kind, irreplaceable friend and colleague. We’ll have an aching spot in our hearts for a long time as we mourn his passing.