James E. Auer, MD
January 3, 1939 - June 2, 2023

Of Elm Grove.  Age 84.  Passed away at home on June 2, 2023.  Jim was born on a farm in Clayton County, Iowa on January 3, 1939 to George and Pearl (Chettinger) Auer.  He was the youngest of 5 children.  Jim lost his father at the  young age of 10, but he fortunately had 3 older brothers and several uncles that helped guide him as he became an adult. Jim liked to tell the story of his mother informing him as a teenager that he had 3 professional choices in life:  Farming, going into the Priesthood, or becoming a Physician.  She also told him that if he was leaning towards becoming a Farmer, he first had to go to college for at least one year.

Jim recalled that during his first year at Loras College he would get up at 4:30 to study in a cold drafty dorm room that had ice forming on the inside windows.  He quickly realized that if he chose farming he’d be outside in below zero temperatures chipping ice out of the water buckets for the cattle.  His brother George, who was in Medical School at the time, impressed upon him that Medicine was the field in which he could do the most good. 

Jim graduated from Loras College in Dubuque and subsequently graduated Medical School at the University of Iowa.  He went on to do a Residency in General Surgery at Duke University.  He was at first undecided about what surgical specialty he would pursue.  He considered Plastics and Pediatric Surgery but realized that adult Cardiac Surgery would be his specialty, as there were so many very ill patients in need. He went on to do a Cardiac Surgery Residency at the University of Florida Gainesville.  It was there that he became acquainted with Dr. Dudley Johnson, a highly respected Cardiac Surgeon in Milwaukee.

He was invited to shadow Dudley for a few weeks and he subsequently decided to practice in Milwaukee, where his career started at St. Luke’s Hospital in 1970.  He practiced there until his retirement in July 1998.  In addition, he started the successful heart surgery program at St Mary’s Hospital in 1972.

What Jim considered to be the highlights of his practice include the introduction of the microscope during surgery, which he believed helped achieve the best patency of bypass vessels.  He initiated the use of the left ventricular cardiac assist device, which allowed patients who would likely die on the operating table to survive. 

Jim also introduced the use of Cardioplegia, a pharmacological therapy that intentionally and temporarily arrests the heart during surgery, as a standard practice.

He participated in the Cardiac Transplantation program at St. Luke’s that was initiated and directed by his esteemed colleague, Dr. Sy Tector.   He was part of the team that put St. Luke’s on the map as a destination for Cardiac Surgery for patients from around the world.  With a steady hand and a compassionate heart, he performed thousands of life saving operations, giving hope to patients and their families.  Jim’s unwavering commitment to his profession earned him the admiration and respect of colleagues who recognized his expertise and unwavering dedication.

Jim’s role as a father was paramount in his life.  He found immense joy and fulfillment in being a loving and supportive father to his five children.  Jim instilled in them the values of kindness, empathy, and perseverance.  His children, now grown, are a testament to the loving influence he had on their lives. 

Jim was a man of many passions outside the operating room.  As an avid hunter and fisherman, he found solace and tranquility in nature.  Whether it was tracking game or casting a line into a serene lake, he relished these moments of serenity and connectedness with the natural world.  He enjoyed sharing these activities with loved ones, fostering cherished memories and bonds that will forever be treasured.

Additionally, Jim possessed a love for aviation and took to the skies as a pilot.  He found liberation and excitement in every flight.  His passion for aviation was contagious, inspiring others to embrace their own dreams and aspirations.

In his later years, Jim loved living at his farm in Rosendale, WI.   It was there that he became an environmental conservationist, planting over 20,000 trees and improving natural waterways.   He also returned to his love of farming, and enjoyed nothing more than driving his tractors and planting crops. 

Jim’s passing leaves an immense void in the hearts of those who knew him.  He will be remembered for his unparalleled skill as a surgeon, his unwavering love as a father, his adventurous spirit as a hunter, fisherman and pilot.    

Jim was preceded in death by his first wife, Bernita Auer, with whom he shared children Robert (Debra) of Germantown, Dr. Sarah (Dr. Richard) Sutton of Orange, CT, Charles (Josie) of Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, and James of Clinton, CT.   He is survived by his loving wife of 33 years Jill Auer, with whom he shares daughter Katherine (Dr. Peter Harvey) of Nottingham, England.  He is also survived by six grand-daughters:  Rachel Sutton, Weston (Matt) Quinn, Stephanie Sutton, and Bridget, Claire and Tory Auer of Rancho Palos Verdes, CA.

In loving memory of Jim, we mourn the loss of a remarkable individual whose impact stretched far and wide.  Jim, renowned worldwide as a gifted heart surgeon, left an indelible mark on the medical field through his unwavering dedication and remarkable surgical skills.  He will forever remain in  our hearts, a  true pioneer, and a beloved figure whose impact will endure  for generations to come. 

Visitation will be held on Thursday, June 22, 2023 at St. Mary’s Visitation Catholic Church (1260 Church St, Elm Grove, WI 53122) from 10am until time of service at 11am. Private family burial to take place at St. Joseph Cemetery in Garnavillo, IA.

In lieu of flowers, please direct Memorials to St. Joseph Catholic Church, Guttenberg, IA or Loras College, Dubuque, Iowa, or charity of your choice.