Robin T. Cotton, MD, FACS, FRCSC, a pediatric otolaryngologist from Cincinnati, OH, received the American College of Surgeons (ACS) 2014 Jacobson Innovation Award at a dinner held in his honor June 6 at the John B. Murphy Memorial Auditorium Building in Chicago, IL. Dr. Cotton is the director of the Aerodigestive Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), OH, and professor, department of pediatrics, University of Cincinnati department of otolaryngology.
The prestigious Jacobson Innovation Award honors living surgeons who have developed a new technique in any field of surgery and is made possible through a gift from Julius H. Jacobson II, MD, FACS, and his wife, Joan. Dr. Jacobson is a general vascular surgeon known for his trailblazing work in the development of microsurgery.
Pioneer in pediatric otolaryngology
Dr. Cotton was honored with the 2014 Jacobson Innovation Award in recognition of his seminal work in the care and reconstruction of the stenotic pediatric airway. His efforts have led to reconstruction of the larynx and trachea in children with laryngotracheal stenosis, allowing them to live and breathe normally. Four of his patients were at the dinner and conveyed their own stories regarding how they have benefitted from his outstanding patient care.
“Dr. Cotton embodies the meaning and spirit of this award,” ACS President Carlos Pellegrini, MD, FACS, FRCSI(Hon), said at the award presentation. Until Dr. Cotton developed his innovative approach to reconstruction of the stenotic pediatric airway, “children who were born with or who, as a result of prolonged intubation in the intensive care unit, had developed significant narrowing of their airway, were condemned to a lifetime of breathing through a tracheostomy,” Dr. Pellegrini noted.
Dr. Cotton’s accomplishments include participation in the initial research work that helped to establish the safety and utility of laryngotracheal reconstruction in children. In collaboration with John Evans, MD, in London, U.K., Dr. Cotton pioneered the techniques used worldwide in the reconstruction of the larynx and trachea in children with laryngotracheal stenosis. He and his mentor, Blair Fearon, MD, developed the anterior cricoid split procedure, a technique to avoid tracheotomy in neonates with acquired subglottic stenosis, and the supraglottoplasty, which he popularized in the U.S. Both techniques were initially met with skepticism but were later embraced around the globe.
Throughout a career dedicated to pediatric otolaryngology, Dr. Cotton has continuously sought to raise the standard of care for children. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Cotton noted that his interest in pediatric tracheal stenosis was ignited when he was in training.
“I was a resident at the Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto [ON] in the late 1960s, when the practice of intubating neonates with immature lungs for ventilator support became accepted. In a small number of infants, this causes damage to the larynx, requiring a tracheotomy. This was a new surgical problem, which needed an innovative idea to correct, and I was fortunate to be mentored by Dr. Blair Fearon, a pediatric otolaryngologist at the Sick Children’s Hospital,” Dr. Cotton said. “Using a monkey model, we worked out surgical solutions to this problem, which have become the worldwide standard for airway reconstruction in children.”
At the forefront in the management of tracheal stenosis, he has been largely responsible for the incorporation of cricotracheal resection into the management of airway stenosis in children. Because results could not be compared between institutions without an appropriate staging system, he developed the grading system for subglottic stenosis that bears his name and is used universally.
In addition to developing innovative approaches to pediatric otolaryngology procedures, Dr. Cotton built the world’s leading center for the diagnosis and treatment of airway abnormalities. Originally developed as the airway management unit at CCHMC, it has evolved into the Aerodigestive and Esophageal Center, which he directs today. “Dr. Cotton’s innovations have led to a complete paradigm shift in the treatment of tracheal stenosis and the old ‘tracheotomy units’ have been replaced by ‘aerodigestive units’ around the world,” Dr. Pellegrini noted.
“Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has been a wonderful partner in this endeavor and allowed me to assemble a team of medical and surgical specialists to take care of these medically fragile children who often need a lot of technological support,” Dr. Cotton noted. “Partnering with CCHMC has [allowed] me to be very progressive in the development of a variety of surgical solutions for congenital and acquired pediatric diseases of the larynx.”
Today, Dr. Cotton is regarded as one of the leading pediatric otolaryngologists of this era and has trained many of the leading pediatric otolaryngologists in the U.S. and abroad. Dr. Cotton “has shared his knowledge widely and without restrictions,” teaching his reconstructive techniques to surgeons globally and welcoming visitors to the Cincinnati Children’s hospital to observe and learn, Dr. Pellegrini said. “He has mentored a number of surgeons and has passed the legacy of his philosophy and his techniques to individuals that will carry on his work.”
“Mission work has allowed me to take surgical and nursing teams from CCHMC to use their skills in other countries to surgically correct children with airway disease and to teach these skills to local surgeons,” Dr. Cotton added.
A member of more than 20 national and international otolaryngology organizations, including the American Academy of Otolaryngology, Dr. Cotton has served as president of the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngology and the Society for Ear, Nose, and Throat Advances in Children. He has received many honors and awards, including the coveted Mosher Award from the Triological Society, the Chevalier Jackson Award, the deRoaldes Award, the Ronald McDonald Lifetime Achievement Award, the James Yearsley Medal, and the William Cooper Proctor Award. Dr. Cotton was named one of America’s Top Doctors seven times in 10 years as well as one of Cincinnati’s Top Doctors from 2002 to 2012.
He has published extensively and lectures throughout the world. He is on the editorial board of several journals and is a prolific contributor to the literature, having written more than 250 articles and books.
View the ACS press release announcing the award.