NEWS | June 27, 2019

In memoriam: Herbert A. Berkoff

Founding director of cardiothoracic surgery program

(SACRAMENTO)

Herbert A. Berkoff, former chief and founding director of the cardiothoracic surgery program at UC Davis Medical Center, passed away suddenly at his home in Davis on June 17.  He was 81 years old.

Herb Berkoff, former chief and founding director of the cardiothoracic surgery program at UC Davis Medical Center. Herb Berkoff, former chief and founding director of the cardiothoracic surgery program at UC Davis Medical Center.

Berkoff was highly regarded for his clinical expertise and research interests when he arrived in Sacramento in 1988. John Benfield and F. William Blaisdell had recruited him to develop the medical center’s adult cardiac surgery program. He was instrumental in establishing the Cardiothoracic Surgery Fellowship Program, and he personally trained many students, residents and surgical fellows.

“Dr. Berkoff was a highly respected member of the cardiac surgical community,” said J. Nilas Young, UC Davis Health’s current chief of cardiothoracic surgery. “He significantly expanded the clinical scope of cardiothoracic surgery at the medical center.”

Herb Berkoff came from modest means, growing up in an industrial neighborhood of Buffalo, NY. He earned a scholarship to Columbia University, and went on to graduate from New York University School of Medicine in 1963. After medical school, he ran a MASH unit in Vietnam and worked (unofficially) with a team of nuns to provide surgeries for local residents in nearby villages. 

Colleagues say Berkoff always enjoyed simply being able to help patients become healthy and whole, and that he was always happiest helping others.

“Dr. Berkoff will be remembered as a colleague and friend, someone whose skill as a surgeon and scientist was matched by his devotion to patient lives and to those in society less fortunate than us,” said Saul Schaefer, a UC Davis Health colleague with a specialty in cardiovascular medicine.

After he retired from UC Davis, Berkoff taught for several years at UC Davis School of Medicine, where he was known for the humanity and heart he brought to the classroom and its students.

Prior to coming to UC Davis, Berkoff led the cardiothoracic surgery department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he trained under the direction of Herbert Sloan, a pioneering thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon. 

Berkoff was also a successful scientific investigator. Among his journal articles was one in the Journal of the American Medical Association that evaluated the treatment of patients with infected grafts and proposed an approach to lower complications from vascular reconstruction. He also co-authored a study in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery that evaluated a procedure for infants born with a rare condition caused by the combination of four heart defects.

Herb Berkoff is survived by his wife of 40 years, Vivienne Roseby, and four children and four grandchildren.

Details are pending about a memorial service planned for August 10 in Davis.