James S.T. Yao, MD, PhD, is world-renowned for his work with non-invasive vascular testing, which he advanced during his training at St. Mary’s Hospital in London with Professor W.T. Irvine. The concept of measuring an ankle arterial blood pressure using Doppler ultrasound was the basis of his PhD thesis from the University of London and was published in the British Journal of Surgery in 1968. The resulting Ankle-Brachial Index (ABI) has become a simple, non-invasive test that provides physicians with a clear sense of a patient’s condition without requiring complex imaging or scans.

After finishing his PhD, Dr. Yao was soon recruited to Northwestern University in Chicago by another young vascular surgeon, John J. Bergan. He founded the blood-flow laboratory at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in 1972. Dr. Yao remained at Northwestern for the rest of his career. By the time Dr. Yao had retired from clinical surgery as Emeritus Professor of Surgery at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, he had served Northwestern as the Magerstadt Professor of Surgery, the Chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery (1988–1997) and the Chair of the Department of Surgery (1997–2000). Always respected as an outstanding technical surgeon, he had maintained a tremendously busy clinical practice at Northwestern Memorial Hospital for more than 35 years. One of his most important and enduring contributions to vascular surgery was the training and mentoring of young people, students, general surgery residents and vascular surgeon fellows. Not surprisingly, from 1972 until 1994 he was the director of the Northwestern University Vascular Fellowship, which he had helped to initiate.

James Yao was born in war-torn Canton, China, the region now known as Guangzhou, on October 14, 1934. Prompted by the Japanese invasion of China, his family moved to nearby Macao where Jim grew up.

He was a 1961 medical graduate of National Taiwan University Medical School. However, Dr. Yao found little opportunity for advanced training at home and thus sought general surgical training at Cook County Hospital in Chicago (1961–1967). Most notably, while at Cook County Hospital, Dr. Yao met Louise, who was a nurse at the hospital, and soon they were married. Together they have raised three children: Kathy, who is an oncology surgeon in the Chicago area, Pauline, an international art curator in Hong Kong, and John, a musician in New York City. After Jim graduated from general surgery at Cook County, the newlyweds traveled to St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London.

Since his days of PhD training and throughout his Northwestern career, Dr. Yao’s research interests have centered around surgical arterial and venous problems, non-invasive diagnostic techniques and basic, molecular issues related to aortic aneurysms. These investigations have formed the basis for more than 500 contributions to the surgical literature. In addition, he was co-editor of more than 50 books pertaining to vascular surgery, including two texts on non-invasive vascular diagnosis and one on angiography for vascular disease. He also served as co-editor of the annual Year Book of Vascular Surgery from 1986 to 1991.

Among his many leadership and academic roles, Dr. Yao served as president of the Lifeline Foundation, the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS), the Midwestern Vascular Surgical Society, the Chicago Surgical Society and the American Venous Forum. He also served as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Vascular Surgery and the Journal of Endovascular Surgery, as an editorial board member of the Annals of Vascular Surgery and the British Journal of Surgery, and as co-chief editor (1996–2002) and later as chief editor of the journal Cardiovascular Surgery (2002–2003).

Dr. Yao has been honored with the Society of Vascular Technology Pioneer Award (1998), the Christian Fenger Award from the Karl Meyer Surgical Society/Surgical Alumni Association of Cook County Hospital (2003), the Society for Vascular Surgery’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2007), and the Pioneers in Performance Award (2010). In 2015, Dr. Yao was awarded the René Leriche Prize by the International Society of Surgery. As a fitting tribute, September 21, 2005 was declared James Yao Day in Chicago by the city’s mayor.

Jim Yao was always intrigued by history, both world history and in particular the history of vascular surgery. He was Co-Chairman of the SVS’s 50th anniversary history presentation in 1997 with Calvin Ernst and was assisted by Bill Pearce. More recently, this led to his initiating and leading the SVS History Project Work Group. The project, which began in 2011, has produced more than 90 video interviews of notable vascular surgeons. The organization, filming, editing and writing related to this huge project gave him tremendous satisfaction and enjoyment. He was still contributing to the work until several weeks before his death on December 20, 2022 at age 87.