James Russo

The physician established the department of anesthesiology at what is now Mercy Medical Center in 1948.

November 19, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Dr. James Russo, a retired anesthesiologist who established the department of anesthesiology at what is now Mercy Medical Center, died Saturday of heart failure at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. He was 91.

Dr. Russo, the son of an immigrant Italian grocer, was born and raised in Norristown, Pa. He was a 1935 graduate of Norristown High School and earned a bachelor's degree from Ursinus College in 1939.

"He had a brother who was 18 years older who had gone to medical school, and he wanted to follow in his footsteps," said a daughter, Elena R. Trentalange of Glen Arm.

After earning his medical degree in 1943 from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, he completed an internship at what is now Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby, Pa., and an internship in anesthesia at the Lahey Clinic in Boston.

Dr. Russo moved to Baltimore in 1948 when he founded the department of anesthesiology at what was then Mercy Hospital.

"It was a new specialty at the time when he established the department, and it represented a turning point that enabled more lengthy and complicated surgeries," said Sister Helen Amos, former president and chief executive officer of Mercy Medical Center. She is executive chairwoman of the hospital's board of trustees.

"This was very important to Mercy, and he served as the department's founding chairman from 1948 to 1969, during which he gave sterling service to the hospital," she said.

Dr. Russo's 40-year career at Mercy was interrupted in 1953, when he was called to active duty by the Army.

He served as chief of anesthesiology at Fort Benning, Ga., until returning to Baltimore in 1956.

"When I knew him in the late 1960s, I was operating room supervisor, and he became both my mentor and friend," said Joanne E. Manzo, a registered nurse who is now a pediatric nurse practitioner with Mercy's Children Health Outreach Program.

"His devotion to the Sisters of Mercy and the hospital overshadowed everything he did," Mrs. Manzo said.

"He mentored physicians, nurses and young supervisors with a sense of humor and commitment. He was both very knowledgeable yet kind," she said. "He created a team spirit in the operating room, and he expected you to be a part of that team."

Mrs. Manzo recalled how Dr. Russo used humor to keep operating room tensions in check.

"His sense of humor got us through many difficult times, and he used it to help keep us afloat," she said.

Even though retired, Dr. Russo enjoyed visiting the hospital.

"He was a thoroughly friendly man who loved coming back to Mercy with other emeritus members of the staff for the triannual medical meetings," Sister Amos said. "He believed in the Mercy mission, was devoted to the hospital and was deeply interested in its future."

Mrs. Trentalange, a retired Mercy registered nurse, occasionally worked with her father. "I was interested in seeing how others related to him and how well-loved he was," she said.

Dr. Russo also served on the faculty at Johns Hopkins and Good Samaritan hospitals.

Dr. Russo, who had lived on Springlake Way in Homeland for many years before moving to Mercy Ridge retirement community in Lutherville in 2000, enjoyed spending time at a second home in Stone Harbor, N.J.

Dr. Russo was a former communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Dec. 3 in the chapel of Stella Maris Hospice, 2300 Dulaney Valley Road, Timonium.

Also surviving are his wife of 60 years, the former Gloria Felice: two sons, Dr. Michael P. Russo of York, Pa., and Mark J. Russo of North Wildwood, N.J.; another daughter, Claudia R. Dixon of Orlando, Fla.; a brother, Dr. Paul Russo of Norristown; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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