Mourning the Loss of Robert Kacmarek

The AARC became aware of Robert Kacmarek’s passing early Thursday morning. Out of respect for the family’s wishes, we delayed our communication about his passing to give them the personal and private time they desired.

The AARC was saddened to learn of the death of Robert M. Kacmarek, PhD, RRT, FAARC, who passed away on Apr. 1, 2021.

“AARC members and RT professionals everywhere are deeply saddened to learn of Bob’s passing,” said Sheri Tooley, BSRT, RRT, RRT-NPS, AE-C, CPFT, FAARC, AARC president and CEO. “Bob is a legend for respiratory care. He built a strong foundation and legacy for this profession. We are grateful for all his dedication and the ingenuity he shared with us all. Our hearts and thoughts go out to his family during this time. We will miss you, Bob.”  

An impact felt by all

“His impact on the profession is enormous, even to those who aren’t aware of the work he has done,” said Rich Branson, MSc, RRT, FAARC, FCCM, AARC editor-in-chief of RESPIRATORY CARE.

According to Branson, Kacmarek was instrumental in the growth of respiratory care. Early in his career in Chicago, Kacmarek led a short course to assist experienced therapists achieve the requirements to sit for the registry exam. He also was one of the leaders in the move from the oral exams to the clinical simulation.

“Personally, Bob was driven,” Branson said. “He pursued projects and ideas. He was always searching for answers and solutions. His work ethic was unparalleled, and he kept impossible hours trying to make a difference. Bob was single minded when it came to the profession. He was vocal in his support of the bachelor’s degree as entry level into the profession, long before it was a popular notion. He campaigned for professionalism and advanced education, pushing for therapists to be consultants at the bedside. In many circles outside the US, Bob was the face of Respiratory Therapy to the rest of the world, and he

represented us well. Bob had strong opinions and was always willing to debate. He didn’t pull punches and his position on an issue was never in doubt. I personally will miss his straightforward and honest approach to discourse, in a world that seems to value feelings over facts.”

A guide for the profession

“In my professional life, I owe more to Bob than any other person,” said Dean Hess, PhD, RRT, FAARC, RESPIRATORY CARE managing editor. “We have worked together for more than 25 years and I knew Bob before I went to work at the MGH. Like no one else, he constantly challenged me to do better, promoted my career, and made me a better respiratory therapist. Our careers were intertwined and there’s a part of Bob, in one way or another, in every major professional decision that I have made in the past 25 years, and that I will make in the future.”

A treasured colleague

“I first met Bob at a RESPIRATORY CARE Journal Conference in the mid 1980s. Right from the start, it was clear to me that Bob had a keen mind, a superb sense of cardiorespiratory physiology, a marvelous communication skill, and was just plain fun to be around,” said Neil R. MacIntyre, MD, FAARC. “Indeed, many of my most memorable interactions with Bob involved either the Journal or the Journal Conferences – planning things, debating things, learning things. He was a real mentor to me in my early years and a treasured colleague and friend in later years.”

A robust career

A member of the AARC for more than 50 years, we are indebted to contributions, both to the association and to the profession. He joined the AARC in January of 1967 and remained dedicated throughout his entire career.

“In the 50 plus years I have known Bob, I was always taken by Bob’s commitment to our patients, our colleagues, and our profession. He always answered the bell, when asked to step up for our patients and our profession,” said Sam Giordano, MBA, RRT, FAARC. “He was one of the few who continually focused on improving, respiratory-related clinical interventions for our patients. Yet, he always found time to participate in numerous projects and activities aimed at improving the value of respiratory therapists and the professional infrastructure necessary to bring about changes that benefited our patients first, and our profession. He was a giver not a taker. He made a difference.”

Kacmarek has been an educator, manager, and researcher. He authored or co-authored over 300 articles indexed in PubMed. He has written 19 textbooks and has lectured over 700 hundred times nationally and internationally.

“For six decades I have observed and learned from the greatest contributors in respiratory care. Bob stood up as a giant among them,” said Ray Masferrer, RRT, FAARC. “His legacy in how RTs treat patients daily is unparalleled and should not be forgotten. His work, dedication, and impact touched thousands of therapists and others and I am thankful I was one of them. Bob was humble. Bob liked to keep learning. Bob loved to teach. We will miss him greatly and his legacy will live for ages in our great profession.”

He was the first RT to receive full professorship in an American medical school (Harvard). He worked with physicians around the world, establishing a bench and animal laboratory in the Department of Anesthesiology at Massachusetts General Hospital. He has mentored pulmonary and anesthesiology physician, fellows and RTs from the US, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

His lasting accomplishments include research papers in journals primarily for physicians and lecturing at international meetings presenting original research. His presence at these meetings brought recognition to the profession and elevated the status of respiratory therapist around the world. He won numerous awards from physician organizations and the AARC. He served on the editorial boards of the CCM, RESPIRATORY CARE Journal, and Intensive Care Medicine.

Paving new ground, Kacmarek was the first RT director to require all his employees to be RRTs. The profession has been enhanced by his vision to push educational and professional standards. Kacmarek was awarded FAARC in 1998, received the AARC’s Jimmy A. Young Medal in 2008, earned the 2018 Héctor León Garza MD International Achievement Award, and was inducted into the AARC Legends of Respiratory Care in 2020.

His legacy and the foundation built for the profession will not be forgotten.

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