Medical School Prof. Walton dies at 34

Jan. 4, 2010, 12:04 a.m.
(Courtesy of Tatum Tarin)
Clinical Instructor in Anesthesia Dr. Geoffrey Brant Walton, pictured with wife Melissa and son Will, passed away from colon cancer on Dec. 17. The School of Medicine will rename a teaching award in his honor. (Courtesy of Tatum Tarin)

After a year-long battle with colon cancer, Medical School Prof. Geoffrey Brant Walton died peacefully in his home on Dec. 17, at the age of 34.

The anesthesia department at the School of Medicine will rename its annual teaching excellence award in memory of Walton, a clinical instructor in anesthesia.

Walton came to Stanford in 2003 for a surgery internship at the Stanford University Medical Center, then stayed on for his residency prior to joining the School of Medicine faculty in July 2007.

“Brant was smart, confident and creative,” wrote anesthesia Prof. Andrew J. Patterson, his former mentor, in an e-mail to The Daily. “He liked to figure out better ways of doing things, both clinically and in the laboratory.”

An Exceptional Teacher

Ronald Pearl, chairman of the anesthesia department, said Walton was both passionate and skilled at teaching. “I think that had he not died, he would have become a national leader in teaching,” Pearl said.

To pay tribute to Walton, a teaching honor will now be named the Geoffrey Brant Walton Resident Award for Excellence in Teaching. The recipient is determined by medical students.

Brooks Rohlen, a senior resident in anesthesia, fondly recalled his experiences under Walton’s supervision for the first year of his residency. On Rohlen’s first day, Walton showed up with a cup of coffee and insisted on getting Rohlen one, too.

“Instead of a superior-inferior relationship, he treated me as an equal,” Rohlen said. “It was a beautiful way of approaching a student. He didn’t blow me off, and made sure to take care of me.”

According to Rohlen, when he shared ideas and concepts about medical technology over breakfast, Walton remained supportive. “He’s one of those guys in the world who everyone tells you ‘no,’ but he tells you ‘maybe.’” Rohlen said.

Rohlen also highlighted Walton’s teaching methods. “Everyone thinks they’re a good teacher, but his teaching was that he identified weaknesses,” he said. “He took complex subjects and he taught in a simple but complete way so that it becomes your strength.”

Urologist Tatum Tarin, who completed his residency while Walton was on staff, agreed. “He could really break things down for his anesthesiology residents,” Tarin said. “He was an exceptional teacher.”

“Golden Hands”

In addition to exceptional teaching, Walton will be remembered as an accomplished researcher.

An emerging mind in modern medicine, Walton won various awards including the Anesthesia Department’s Resident Research Award in 2007 and a prize from the California Society of Anesthesiologists.

“Medicine has suffered a huge loss to lose a mind like that,” Rohlen said. “His ability to teach, invent and develop all made him a huge asset to academic medicine.”

In 2000, Walton was named a Howard Hughes scholar. Recipients of the prestigious fellowship are up and coming thinkers in the country who can make a difference on a global scale, according to Rohlen. Using this scholarship, Walton worked closely with Dr. Wally Koch at Duke University, investigating cardiovascular physiology and adrenergic receptor biology.

After completing the fellowship, Walton came to Stanford to further his research in cardiovascular physiology. Patterson mentored Walton during his fellowship at the Stanford Medical Center.

According to Patterson, Walton taught several members of his laboratory team how to perform the microsurgery techniques that he had developed in the Koch lab.

“Brant was a phenomenal researcher,” Patterson wrote in an e-mail to The Daily.

“[Walton] was known to have ‘golden hands’ in the laboratory,” he added. “He quickly showed us why when he started to work in my laboratory.”

Walton’s work on gene expression profiling, done in Patterson’s lab, will be published in Critical Care Medicine in January 2010. Prior to his diagnosis of cancer, Walton also co-authored 10 publications.

“Unfortunately, Brant [Walton] developed cancer before he could realize his full potential with regard to research,” Patterson wrote. “He would likely have developed novel means of monitoring the cardiovascular system – his talent was exceptional.

“[He] would have invented something to save lives, and he would have contributed to a better understanding of heart disease,” Patterson added. “He was just reaching a point in his life where he could make a significant difference.”

A Renaissance Man

To his friends and family, Walton was recognized as an extroverted Renaissance man. He was a musician, scholar, cook, photographer, nature enthusiast, builder, traveler and wine connoisseur.

“He knew so much about history and literature, and he was an accomplished musician,” Tarin said. “He was a national champion jazz drummer. He was a phenomenal cook and father.”

“He just enjoyed life,” added Brenda Walton, his mother.

Walton valued learning and really wanted his son to love learning too, according to Rohlen.

“His biggest concern as a dying father was that his son got to go to college and learn,” he said. “The fact that he wasn’t going to be around for his family was really on his mind – he was such a caring guy.”

“He loved his son and wife,” added his younger brother, Zaak Walton.

Walton also kept an online journal of his fight with cancer in order to keep his family and friends updated about his status.

“Everyone loved him and everybody loved being around him,” Tarin said. “He will be missed.”

A memorial service will be held on campus later this month.

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