Remembering Dr Ron Victor, Pioneer in Barbershop-Led HTN Efforts

Patrice Wendling

September 11, 2018

Ronald G. Victor, MD, a clinician scientist who took the fight against hypertension into the African American community, died September 10 at the age of 66.

His innovative approach allowed nearly 64% of black men with uncontrolled hypertension to achieve the new aggressive US blood pressure targets of 130/80 mm Hg in a randomized trial that enlisted community barbers to take patrons' blood pressure and, if necessary, to follow-up with pharmacists stationed in the barbershop.

When the results of the late-breaking trial were presented earlier this year at the American College of Cardiology Annual Scientific Sessions, observers called it "a coup" and "a game-changer" and said it provides "a new model for chronic-disease management."

"Where others saw intractable challenges, Ron saw novel solutions," Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, director of the Smidt Heart Institute and a friend of Victor's for 26 years, said in a statement from Cedar-Sinai Medical Center. "His out-of-the-box thinking has created a new paradigm for serving neglected populations: Bring medicine to at-risk people rather than waiting for sickness to rear its ugly head, when it's often too late."

Long-time friend Clyde Yancy, MD, chief of cardiology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, commented to | Medscape Cardiology, "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."

"Those of us who hold academic medicine as our professional aspiration spend our careers answering questions, discovering new science and/or exploring best practices," he added. "Few of us do all three objectives well, but Ron Victor did them all, and did them very well."

Victor was born in 1952 in New Orleans, Louisiana, and earned his undergraduate degree summa cum laude with distinction at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He earned his medical degree from Tulane University in New Orleans and completed two residencies at the University of California Los Angeles  before completing cardiology fellowships at Duke University in North Carolina, University of Iowa, and University of Uppsala in Sweden.

Yancy recalled that the two men grew up in different parts of Louisiana but became friends attending medical school at Tulane and later as faculty peers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where Victor was the founding director of the Houston J. and Florence A. Doswell Center for the Development of New Approaches to the Treatment of Hypertension.

"Ours was an immediate connection, both personally and professionally," Yancy said. "Our shared interest in hypertension found us working side by side —  – particularly on his  first Barbershop initiative —   and our shared Louisiana heritage found us seeking the best examples of Louisiana food in Texas, some of which we prepared on our own. Through it all, we brought our very different worlds together in one remarkably wonderful friendship."

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.'" 

Eric Muhammad, coauthor of the randomized study with Victor and owner of A New You Barbershop in Inglewood, California, remarked in the Cedar-Sinai news release: "Through the Los Angeles study, Dr Victor helped nearly 400 men who had hypertension. But his effect was so much broader than that because those men now teach their children and their sisters and their brothers and their friends. He really made a difference in the black community."

As a result of his efforts, Victor was recognized with the Humanitarian Award from the Professional Barber & Stylists Committee and the James E. Smith Trailblazer award from the Texas Association of Tonsorial Artists. Just weeks before his death, his colleagues at the Smidt Heart Institute also honored Victor's contributions to medicine with a symposium, "A Breakthrough Achievement in Bringing Diagnosis and Treatment to a Vulnerable Population."

In addition to his barbershop work, Victor made headlines at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in 2017 with his study using cardiosphere-derived cells to improve cardiovascular outcomes in boys and young men with cardiomyopathy secondary to Duchenne muscular dystrophy — a patient population with few treatment options.

Victor was the primary investigator on more than 140 published studies, served on the editorial boards of Circulation and the Journal of Clinical Hypertension, and coauthored the influential textbook, Kaplan's Clinical Hypertension, with his mentor, Norman M. Kaplan, MD. He also served as president of the Association of University Cardiologists and was the Burns and Allen Chair in Cardiology Research at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles.

Shlomo Melmed, MD, dean of the Cedars-Sinai medical faculty, commented in the news release: "Victor has left behind an unforgettable legacy of medical discoveries as well as a reputation as a gentle academic who carried on with his research even as he battled a long illness."

Victor is survived by his wife, Vicki; sister, Sally Victor Siegel; and father, Harold D. Victor. He will be buried in New Orleans. Those wishing to provide a memorial gift to further Victor's work against hypertension can find more information here.

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