Newswise — CHICAGO (February 8, 2021): The 2020 Jacobson Innovation Award of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) was presented to James L. Cox, MD, FACS, at a virtual event held in his honor on Friday evening, February 5. Dr. Cox is a cardiothoracic surgeon, researcher, professor, and mentor best known for his influential research and innovative work in cardiothoracic surgery. Over the course of his distinguished career, he has trained many of the future leaders of cardiac surgery while investigating and pioneering new methods to surgically treat cardiac arrhythmias.

This international surgical award honors living surgeons who have been innovators of a new development or technique in any field of surgery and is made possible through a gift from Julius H. Jacobson II, MD, FACS, and his wife Joan. Dr. Jacobson is a general vascular surgeon known for his pioneering work in the development of microsurgery. 

Although Dr. Cox has developed multiple procedures to address arrhythmias, he is best known for the Cox-Maze procedure, an operation that involves placing multiple lesions in the right and left atria in a maze-like pattern to interrupt the multiple electrical circuits that cause atrial fibrillation (AFib). The procedure has been the “gold standard” for surgically treating AFib for over 30 years while going through multiple modifications to make it less invasive and quicker to perform than the original procedure. Dr. Cox’s decades of painstaking research and development revolutionized the treatment of AFib, forever changing the field of cardiac surgery, and saving countless lives, making him an exemplary recipient for the prestigious Jacobson Innovation Award.

“During his long career, Dr. Cox has developed and refined many procedures and created and patented many surgical devices related to the treatment of cardiac arrhythmia, garnering him the title as ‘father of cardiac arrhythmias,’” said Valerie W. Rusch, MD, FACS, immediate past-President of the ACS, during the virtual event. “He also has been a pioneer in intervention for atrial fibrillation making him a legend in the field of cardiac surgery.” 

Dr. Cox has a legacy of having trained many prominent surgeons around the world, including 34 residents or clinical fellows who became full professors of surgery. Thirty of those surgeons went on to become chiefs of cardiac and/or thoracic surgery at their respective institutions. 

Dr. Cox’s research work is extensive—he has published more than 400 peer-reviewed scientific articles, more than 250 scientific abstracts, and holds some 35 patents on medical devices. Additionally, he has served as guest lecturer, visiting professor, or guest surgeon more than 600 times and in more than 30 countries. Dr. Cox continues to deliver an average of 50 lectures annually, both nationally and internationally, on the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias.

Before his surgical career began, Dr. Cox achieved many notable accomplishments. He was a three-sport athlete on a scholarship at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, and was drafted as an infielder by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1963. Instead of pursuing a professional baseball career, Dr. Cox decided to attend the University of Tennessee School of Medicine where he received the award as the most outstanding student in his graduating class. During his surgical training, Dr. Cox was called to active duty military service in 1970. He joined the U.S. Army Medical Corps as a Captain and was soon promoted to Major with a special commendation and appointment as “Honorary Tanker, U.S. Army” by General George S. Patton III for “Services Performed” in May 1971. 

“Dr. Cox’s seminal contribution has been the procedure that bears his name. Along the way he made significant contributions in heart valve surgery and to academic medicine, and inspired many of us in practice and in research,” said Patrick M. McCarthy, MD, FACS, in his award nomination letter for Dr. Cox. “Coming from humble origins, his story is a classic American success story of achievement.”

View a list of all Jacobson Innovation Award Recipients.

View a video interview with Dr. Cox from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons “Giants in Cardiothoracic Surgery” series.

"FACS" designates that a surgeon is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

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About James L. Cox, MD, FACS
Dr. Cox is a professor of surgery at Northwestern University, Chicago. He is a senior consultant to eight medical device companies and a member of the board of directors of four companies. He earned his medical degree from the University of Tennessee School of Medicine, Memphis, and subsequently completed his post-graduate training at Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C. His surgical training was interrupted for two years while he served as a Captain and Major with the U.S. Army Medical Corps before returning to Duke University to complete his surgical residency training. Dr. Cox spent most of his professional career as the first Evarts A. Graham Professor of Surgery, vice-chairman of the department of surgery, and chief of the division of cardiothoracic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Mo. Dr. Cox was the 81st president of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS), a member of the editorial board of more than 20 scientific journals, editor-in-chief of two AATS journals, chairman of the Residency Review Committee for Thoracic Surgery, a director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, a member of the Surgical Study Section at the National Institutes of Health, and a founding member of the Board of Directors of CTSNet. Among the numerous awards and honors he has received throughout his illustrious career, Dr. Cox is the only surgeon ever to receive the Distinguished Scientist Awards from the AATS, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and the Heart Rhythm Society. He is also the only American cardiac surgeon in the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences. 

About the American College of Surgeons
The American College of Surgeons is a scientific and educational organization of surgeons that was founded in 1913 to raise the standards of surgical practice and improve the quality of care for surgical patients. The College is dedicated to the ethical and competent practice of surgery. Its achievements have significantly influenced the course of scientific surgery in America and have established it as an important advocate for all surgical patients. The College has more than 82,000 members and is the largest organization of surgeons in the world. For more information, visit