Forrest Hood Adams, MD, MACC : Committed to Cardiology for More than Seven Decades

Physician, educator, father, husband, president. Forrest Hood Adams, MD, MACC, is no stranger to the challenges and successes that a lifetime in cardiology can bring. In his 72 years as a physician, he divided his time between these roles, all the while striving to improve the field of pediatric cardiology. From his research on fetal and neonatal cardiopulmonary function in health and disease to his implementation of the first heart catheterizations on newborns and infants, Adams has been a forerunner in pediatric cardiology since he first became a physician.

Much of Adams’ scientific work stemmed from his research with Professors John Lind and Peter Kallberg in Stockholm, Sweden, at the Karolinska Institute during isolated months in 1956 and 1957. This research on fetal and neonatal cardiopulmonary function attracted other physicians to work with him over the 13 years in his posting at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). With the help of other physicians, Adams studied fetal lambs – which greatly resemble the size of fetal humans – and discovered that the fetal larynx acts as a sphincter, allowing lung fluid to accumulate in the trachea before flowing into the amniotic fluid. This research was published in 1967 and created the foundation for the later discovery that amniotic fluid could determine fetal lung maturity. In his work with cardiopulmonary function, Adams was also the first to do research on the development, role and use of lung surfactant in health and disease, and the first to research exercise physiology in children with health and heart disease.

In addition to his extensive research and achievements, Adams encouraged the development of the pediatric cardiovascular field by dedicating his time founding hospital programs and educating physicians-in-training at the University of Minnesota and UCLA. He began his career in 1943 as a medical student and was the first to describe the genetic disorder that later became known as Adams-Oliver Syndrome. In 1948 he joined Minneapolis General Hospital as a general pediatrician, soon advancing to chief of Pediatrics. He worked with John La Bree, MD, FACC, to create the Variety Children’s Heart Hospital at the University of Minnesota, a facility that proved crucial to the research of heart disease in humans. While at the university, Adams also worked alongside C. Walton Lillehei, MD, PhD, MACC, known as the father of open heart surgery. Adams also developed a cardiopulmonary center at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego, CA.

In 1952, Adams joined the faculty at UCLA’s new medical school, where he created the Division of Pediatric Cardiology. He served as the head of the division until 1976. Before his retirement from the post in 1978, Adams worked with more than 75 post-doctoral physicians, encouraging and implementing best practices in pediatric cardiology.

Alongside his teaching, Adams served as president of the Western Society for Pediatric Research in 1962 and was chair of the Sub-board of Pediatric Cardiology of the American Board of Pediatrics from 1967 to 1969, of which he was a founding member. From 1964 to 1971, Adams participated in six International Circuit Courses, traveling to 16 different countries to exchange recent information in cardiovascular disease with medical colleagues worldwide. Despite his commitments to boards and UCLA, Adams also dedicated time to serve as a Goodwill Ambassador for the U.S. State Department Cultural Exchange Program. Between 1964 to 1971, he traveled to 18 different countries, lecturing on pediatric cardiology. By request of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Adams also traveled to South Vietnam in 1967 to review the health care system with a group of other physicians. In 1971, Adams served as president of the ACC and earned the Distinguished Fellow Award in 1974.

Adams is the oldest living former president of the ACC at the age of 95. He has been a member since 1963. In 1966, he served as the chair of the Annual Scientific Program, during which he increased attendance by coordinating paper presentations with the American Heart Association’s (AHA) annual meeting to avoid duplicates, and by allowing more scientific papers to be presented. The following year, Adams became the chair of the ACC’s Credentials Committee, where he served until 1970. As chair, he implemented criteria for ACC membership according to category (i.e. Fellow, Affiliate, etc.) and developed the beginnings of ACC’s mission and goals. During his time as president, Adams introduced better coordination between the ACC and AHA, including regular meetings. He also aided in the development of ACC’s first scientific journal, Cardiology, and became its first editor.

One of Adams’ most memorable roles was leading a survey on how best to define “cardiologist,” including a survey of the type of training self-proclaimed cardiologists received.1 The results of the study showed that of those physicians who listed cardiology as a specialty, only 10 percent had certification in cardiovascular disease. Even after he stepped down as president, Adams urged the ACC to narrow the definition of cardiologist to those who completed a cardiovascular fellowship and received Board certification. As a result of his persistence, changes in the designation of cardiologist occurred within the decade, and the number of certifications and fellowships increased. Eventually, Board certification became mandatory for all cardiologists to reputably maintain their specialization.

To date, Adams has published over 200 papers and 11 books on his research. He also co-authored the textbook, Heart Disease in Infants, Children and Adolescents, with Arthur Moss, MD, FACC, which is now in its eighth edition.

Adams is the father of eight children and lives with his wife in California. At the age of 95, those around him marvel at his continued good health. His wife of 45 years remarked, “He’s a phenomenon…healthy with tremendous energy. I get tired and he never gets tired.”2 A clue to Adams’ longevity may be in his ancestry. He is a descendent of U.S. Presidents John Adams (1735-1826) and John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), who lived to the ages of 91 and 81, respectively.

He recently stated in an interview that he has “arrived at the conclusion that the majority, 90 to 95 percent, of man’s medical illnesses are determined genetically [and] in a sense we’re predestined to get certain things, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease…”3. These thoughts led him to contribute to the Wellderly Study at Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, CA. The study looks at the connections between genetics and human longevity. To aid in the process, Adams had his stem cells harvested and sealed in liquid nitrogen for genealogical study. He hopes that one day his DNA will help others live longer.


  1. Frye, W. Bruce. American Cardiology: The History of a Specialty and Its College. The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Maryland, 1996; 287.
  2. Lightbourn, Arthur. “At 90, Retired Pediatrician Hopes His Genes Will Make a Difference.” Scripps Translational Science Institute. Nov. 14, 2009.
  3. Faryon, Joanne. KPBS Public Broadcasting. March 25, 2009.
  4. Philip, Alistair G.S., MD. “Forrest Hood Adams, MD: Pediatric Polymath.” NeoReviews. 15.7 (2014): 264-267. Print.

Keywords: Cardiology Magazine, ACC Publications

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