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Dr. Harvey Feigenbaum receives Indiana University President's Medal

June 19, 2014

Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie presented the President's Medal for Excellence to Dr. Harvey Feigenbaum, a longtime IU School of Medicine faculty member and a pioneer in the use of ultrasound technology in cardiology.

The award was presented Monday evening at a reception honoring Feigenbaum at the Lilly House in Indianapolis. In attendance were Feigenbaum's family, friends and colleagues, including the current dean and two former deans of the School of Medicine.

McRobbie and Feigenbaum

IU President Michael A. McRobbie, left, presents the President's Medal for Excellence to Distinguished Professor Harvey Feigenbaum.

Feigenbaum, Distinguished Professor and professor of medicine in the School of Medicine, is widely recognized as the "Father of Echocardiography" for his discovery, development and promotion of echocardiograph technology for diagnosing heart conditions.

"There is no question that Dr. Feigenbaum was the first to recognize vast potential of echocardiography, the first to bring it into clinical practice, and that he is largely responsible for the development of the entire field," McRobbie said. "His discoveries have helped ensure an exceptional quality of life for Hoosiers, and his distinguished career has brought great distinction to the university and the IU School of Medicine."

An Indiana University faculty member since 1962, Feigenbaum has been the leading scientist for decades in echocardiography, the most widely used imaging technique for diagnosing cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S. In 1968, he taught the first medical school course in echocardiography.

Feigenbaum and his students developed numerous diagnostic applications for echocardiography that are still in use. They pioneered the idea of a stress echo, a technique that uses ultrasound to look at heart function at rest and with exertion. Perhaps most significantly, he trained countless colleagues in echocardiography. More than 20 million echocardiograms per year are now performed in the U.S.

He founded the American Society of Echocardiography, was its first president and served for 20 years as founding editor of its namesake journal. He has served since 2005 as a director of the Regenstrief Institute, an internationally respected informatics and health care research institute.

He is a fellow of the American College of Physicians, the American College of Cardiology, the Council on Clinical Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. The annual Feigenbaum Lecture was inaugurated in his honor at the 2000 annual meeting of the American Society for Echocardiography. The endowed Feigenbaum Fellowship at IU's Krannert Institute of Cardiology supports the training of future generations of cardiologists in echocardiography.

Feigenbaum, IU Archives

Dr. Feigenbaum with an early echocardiography machine at the IU School of Medicine. | Photo courtesty the Krannert Institute of Cardiology.

The son of immigrants from Poland and England, Feigenbaum planned to study violin and become a musician but changed plans after winning a scholarship to study science. He earned a B.A. from IU Bloomington in anatomy and physiology in 1955 and an M.D. from the IU School of Medicine in 1958.

Soon after becoming a School of Medicine faculty member, he saw an advertisement in a journal for a machine that manufacturers claimed could measure the volume of the heart using ultrasound. He examined the device at a meeting of the American Heart Association and recognized it could not do what was advertised. However, he realized he could use it to detect fluid that collects in the sac surrounding the heart, a condition known as pericardial effusion.

When he returned to IU, he borrowed an unused ultrasound machine and continued to experiment, developing a cardiac ultrasound technique to identify pericardial effusion, the first reliable, long-lasting diagnostic application of cardiac ultrasound. Today, echocardiography has become the world’s leading cardiovascular imaging tool, used countless times a day to evaluate the size, shape and condition of the heart. 

The Indiana University President's Medal for Excellence is the highest honor an IU president can bestow. It recognizes distinction in public service, service to IU, and extraordinary merit and achievement in the arts, humanities, sciences, education and industry. The medal is a reproduction in silver of the symbolic jewel of office worn by IU's president at ceremonies.

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