Ronald G. Victor, Who Brought Hypertension Treatment Into the Barbershop, Dead at 66
“Rather than just sitting back . . . , he rolled up his sleeves and kind of invented a new way of trying to do things,” says Eduardo Marbán.
Hypertension researcher Ronald G. Victor, MD, died Monday from metastatic pancreatic cancer, leaving behind a legacy defined by a passion for tackling health problems in underserved populations, particularly high blood pressure in the African-American community. He was 66 years old.
Victor—who served as associate director for clinical research at the Heart Institute (now Smidt Heart Institute) and director of the Hypertension Center at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, CA, from 2009 until his death—was remembered by friends and colleagues as humble, kind, and caring.
He was “an unusually fine person, and it’s a loss not just for us here at Cedars but for the community at large,” Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, director of the Smidt Heart Institute and a friend of Victor’s for 26 years, told TCTMD.
Victor is best known for heading up studies that recruited African-American barbers to take part in screening their clients for hypertension, first in Dallas, TX, and then in Los Angeles. Back in March at the American College of Cardiology 2018 Scientific Session in Orlando, FL, Victor presented findings at a late-breaking clinical trial session from the more recent effort, which yielded results one commentator called a “home run.”
In a press release from Cedars-Sinai, Eric Muhammad, one of the barbers who participated in the study and a co-author of the paper, said:, “Dr. Victor showed genuine care and concern for our community’s high blood pressure problem, particularly as it affected black men. This doctor was an exceptional human being and one of the most humble men I’ve ever met. He didn’t see color or class. He didn’t see anything but our blood pressure problem.”
This doctor was an exceptional human being and one of the most humble men I’ve ever met. He didn’t see color or class. He didn’t see anything but our blood pressure problem. Eric Muhammad
Most people watching Victor’s energetic recounting of his results at the meeting probably didn’t know that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer several months earlier. When close friend and colleague Karol Watson, MD, PhD (Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles), asked Victor, who had started to show physical signs of the disease, whether he’d be doing the presentation, Victor made it clear that he would be there to report the culmination of decades of work. “There was no way, come hell or high water, he was not going to be there to present this trial,” Watson told TCTMD. “And the response he got . . . probably gave him a few extra months of life, because he was so humbled and overjoyed at how well it was embraced.”
Marbán called Victor’s effort at the meeting heroic. “He lived each day as if he were well and going to live the next, and he was a great example to the rest of us, just his devotion and his passion,” he said.
Victor, who was born in New Orleans, LA, in 1952, received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University before returning to his hometown to earn his MD at Tulane University. He was a resident at UCLA before completing fellowships at Duke University in Durham, NC, the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and Uppsala University in Sweden.
Victor landed a faculty position at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in 1986 and remained there until 2009, when Marbán recruited him to come to Cedars-Sinai.
During his career, Victor was the primary investigator on more than 140 studies published in peer-reviewed journals, according to the Cedars-Sinai press release. He co-authored the textbook Kaplan’s Clinical Hypertension and was a member of the editorial boards of Circulation and the Journal of Clinical Hypertension. He had previously served as president of the local American Heart Association affiliate in Dallas and of the Association of University Cardiologists.
Victor started off with a focus on basic science, doing work on animal models to explore the mechanisms of blood pressure regulation in different disease states. But over the years, Marbán said, he became more interested in human biology, public health, and ways to control blood pressure in communities, particularly in underserved areas.
Through going into affected communities, Victor came up with the idea to bring hypertension treatment into barbershops. Marbán said Victor was somewhat disappointed by the modest effects seen in the Dallas barbershop study and modified the approach to include specially trained pharmacists prescribing medications in the barbershops to achieve a greater impact. And it worked, with more than 60% of men in the intervention arm achieving a blood pressure goal of less than 130/80 mm Hg at 6 months.
“Rather than just sitting back and doing the kind of traditional study that everybody else is so fond of doing, he rolled up his sleeves and kind of invented a new way of trying to do things,” Marbán said. “I think he’s invented a new way of reaching out to communities and intervening there rather than waiting for them to come to us and that could be a major paradigm shift.”
Fellow Louisiana native Clyde Yancy, MD (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL), who became friends with Victor as they shared time as medical students at Tulane and later as faculty members at UT Southwestern, described Victor’s impact.
He did change the path of my career, and I am so grateful for him and his friendship through the years. He was always just the nicest guy in the world. Karol Watson
“Ron, through his amazing intellect, critical discoveries and tireless pursuit of a better way to treat hypertension, made a difference. His discoveries both in the pathophysiology of hypertension and in the best care strategies for those who are least resourced have resulted in lives saved and cardiovascular disease events prevented,” Yancy said in emailed comments. “Those of us who hold academic medicine as our professional aspiration spend our careers answering questions, discovering new science, and/or exploring best practices. Few of us do all three objectives well; but Ron Victor did them all, and did them very well.
Ultimately, Yancy continued, “cardiovascular medicine is a better discipline because of his contributions. Those of us who knew him as a friend and colleague are better professionals, and those with hypertension have more hope. His life was shortened but his career immense. I hope his epitaph reads, ‘Ron Victor made a difference.’”
Watson would agree. “I’m a preventive cardiologist now partly because of him and what he taught me about hypertension,” she said. “He did change the path of my career and I am so grateful for him and his friendship through the years. He was always just the nicest guy in the world.”
Victor, who will be buried in his home town of New Orleans, is survived by his wife, sister, and father.