Boston lost one of its longtime health care leaders when Nathan Pierce Couch, MD passed from natural causes on April 14, 2016 at his home in Dover. “Nate” Couch was a highly respected and skilled surgeon, well known for his clinical competence, his congenial manner with colleagues and staff, and his stellar bedside manner. Nate was a devoted husband to his late wife Anne “Nancy” Couch of almost sixty years, a loving and supportive father to his three children and proud grandfather of five grandchildren.
A native son of Massachusetts, he was born in Pittsfield, attended the Dalton High School, Peekskill Military Academy, Yale University, and Harvard Medical School. He served the Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School for decades, teaching surgery to medical students and treating countless patients. Notably, the operating room nurses singled him out at the time of his retirement by bestowing him with a gift citing their “professional admiration and personal respect”. He also served as President of the New England Society for Vascular Surgery and President of the Massachusetts Chapter of the American College of Surgeons.
Dr. Couch is a descendant of Zenas Crane, the founder of Crane Paper Company, which makes its home in Western Massachusetts. Raised in Dalton, he was predeceased by his parents, Franklin L. and Ruth P. Couch, and his brothers Franklin and James. He was also predeceased by his wife of almost 60 years, Anne W. Couch, “Nancy”. He is survived by his brother Robert and his three children Nathan P. Couch, Jr., of Frisco, TX, Susan Lowell of Southborough, MA, and Christopher Couch of Acton, MA, as well as five grandchildren, Madeline Couch, Jacob Couch, Clara Couch, Nathan Lowell, and Jameson Lowell and many nieces and nephews.
Nate was a prolific researcher and writer, having conducted research at Harvard Medical School and authored 99 peer reviewed articles in journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association. He was a member of one of the earliest kidney transplant teams in the 50’s, pioneering new methods of surgery to improve the science of patient treatment. His work in building a device to keep a liver functioning outside the body was featured in LIFE magazine. A near-fatal accident almost took Dr. Couch in 1957, when a short-circuit in an X-Ray machine sent 60,000 volts through his body and out his shoe, rendering him lifeless. In a time without access to defibrillators, his quick-thinking research colleagues opened his chest and manually massaged his heart, reviving him. He used his second chance well, continuing his research, caring for his patients, and raising his family of three with Nancy. True to his roots as a thrifty Yankee and child of the Depression, he continued to wear the shoes in which he was electrocuted, despite a small hole in the toe where the voltage escaped. His colleagues would point out the irony of continuing to wear the shoes, Nate would reply, “There is still plenty of wear left in them!” Years later he would assert that the electrocution somehow made him smarter, with a wry smile.
Nate Couch will be missed by his family, friends, and colleagues. Services will be announced at a later date. In lieu of gifts, please consider donations to Brigham & Women’s Hospital.