In Memoriam

In Memoriam

William J. Casarella, MD, DABR, FACR, FSIR (11/17/37 – 02/02/2024)

By Gary J. Becker, MD, Former ABR Executive Director

2024;17(3):15

William J. Casarella, MD

In February, we lost a world-renowned pioneering interventional radiologist, extraordinary medical leader, husband, father, grandpa (of 10), friend, and colleague — Bill Casarella. Born to Italian immigrant parents in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Bill grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, graduated from Yale University (cum laude ’59) and Harvard Medical School (’63), interned in internal medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and did a year in internal medicine at Boston City Hospital before serving two years as an Army flight surgeon in Korea.

Upon returning to the U.S., Bill completed a diagnostic radiology residency at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, and then remained on the faculty for 11 years. He became widely known for his work in vascular and interventional radiology — most notably in angioplasty and interventional treatment of gastrointestinal bleeding, but also in nonvascular interventions — and rose to professor and chief of the cardiovascular radiology section, and vice chair of radiology.

In 1981, Bill was recruited to chair the Department of Radiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, a position he held for 22 years. There he demonstrated his commitment to exceptional care for all, championed Grady Memorial Hospital, became executive associate dean responsible for Grady in 2000, and was instrumental in raising the funds necessary to make Grady the great institution it is today. He was highly respected for his knowledge, expertise, and experience as a physician and administrator, and many institutions around the country tapped Bill to serve on or lead academic department external review committees.

Bill’s service to organized academic radiology is too extensive to do it justice in this brief article. Suffice it to say that his major contributions elevated him to the presidency of the following organizations: the Society of Interventional Radiology (then the Society of Cardiovascular and Interventional Radiology [SCVR]), the American Roentgen Ray Society (ARRS), the Society of Chairs of Academic Radiology Departments (then the Society of Chairmen of Academic Radiology Departments [SCARD]), and the ABR. He was awarded the Gold Medal, an academic society’s highest honor, from the American College of Radiology (ACR), the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), ARRS, and SIR. Bill was one of the founding members of the SCVR, the fledgling organization whose few members were developing lifesaving techniques and meeting once a year to talk about the exciting, new, and evolving specialty and to share ideas. Bill placed a high value on the friendships made through SCVR.

I knew Bill for around 30 years, mostly through contact at the ABR. He was ABR certified in 1971, and he received the ABR Certificate of Added Qualification in the subspecialty of VIR in 1995. He served on the ABR Board of Trustees (BOT) from 1991 to 2001, and as its president from 1998 to 2000. The latter was a pivotal period regarding the financial health of the organization. The bursting of the dot-com bubble occurred during this time, and there was nowhere safe to invest reserves. Bill led a movement of trustees to stop paying rent on the ABR’s first office in Tucson, and instead invest reserves in the construction of a new building. That is what eventually took place, and it was one of the best decisions ever made by the BOT.

Bill somehow earned a reputation as a tough oral examiner, but that was a myth. When I became an oral examiner, I spent many hours watching and listening to Bill examine candidates. He was gentle, calm, and kind to the examinees. With his friends and colleagues, he was also the consummate conversationalist. As an examiner headed into one of the break rooms at the Executive West hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, it was common to hear Bill holding forth, with listeners enthralled, about any subject, ranging from politics and sports to entertainment, travel, history, or even radiology. And he was convincing enough to have an outsize influence, even on my own career decision-making.

Bill played an important role in the modernization of ABR exams. When the DR Oral Certifying Exam was transitioning from film-based to standardized case sets to be administered on videodisk, Bill headed the committee that led this effort in the cardiovascular and interventional radiology category. I was on that committee with Bill, and we took the opportunity of modernizing the exam to replace the oldest, least useful cases with new ones. Also on the committee were Helen Redman, MD; Gary Dorfman, MD; Arina Van Breda, MD; and Dan Picus, MD. The process was overseen by then Executive Director Paul Capp, MD. There have been many additional steps in the evolution of ABR exams. But the relationships forged during those early years were worth a great deal to all of us.

Finally, on a more personal note, Bill’s widow, Kay Vydareny, MD, is also a colleague and very good friend of mine. We served at the same time on the ABR BOT. Kay later served as associate executive director in diagnostic radiology when I was ABR executive director and continued on after my retirement.

While we mourn the loss of Bill Casarella, we are grateful for the years of friendship and for the imprint he has made on radiology, interventional radiology, academic medicine, and our own professional and personal lives.

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