NEW YORK — Dr. S. Ward Casscells, a nationally prominent cardiologist who astonished many by joining the US Army Reserve at 54 and volunteering to go to Iraq before being appointed the Pentagon’s top medical officer, died Sunday in Washington. He was 60.
The cause was complications of prostate cancer.
‘‘This is one heck of a midlife crisis,’’ his wife, Roxanne, said when he announced his plan to join the military, in Dr. Casscells’ telling.
So in 2006, Dr. Casscells became a colonel in the Army Reserve. Transferred to Iraq, he was shelled and caught in an ambush. He went on to lead a $45 billion health and education system with 10 million patients in 100 countries.
Taking office at the Pentagon when evidence was surfacing of shameful conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Dr. Casscells made unannounced visits to the center’s wards as part of a campaign to correct the problems. (It closed in 2011.) He started programs to use stem cells to help treat wounds with patients’ own tissue.
Before his time in uniform, Dr. Casscells had held a prestigious chair in medicine and public health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where he was also the vice president of external affairs and public policy. He was also a senior scholar at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.
To join the Army, he had to convince doctors that he was able: He had just gone through five years of chemotherapy and radiation treatment for prostate cancer. Once approved, he traveled to Cairo, Beijing, and Bangkok to study avian flu, a disease he had researched.
After going through what he called the ‘‘shock and awe’’ of basic training for reserve officers at Fort Sam Houston — ‘‘I haven’t been this tired and intimidated since I was an intern,’’ he said — he shipped out to Iraq. There he was medical liaison to the US commanding general and ambassador.
‘‘Some people as they get older get more conservative,’’ Dr. Casscells said in 2007. ‘‘For whatever reason, I just seem to be getting more adventurous.’’
Samuel Ward Casscells III was born in Wilmington, Del. He graduated from Yale and Harvard Medical School. His father, S. Ward Casscells, was an orthopedic surgeon who had helped invent arthroscopic surgery.
In Houston, Dr. Casscells established ties to the Army when he helped lead disaster preparedness efforts. He helped direct humanitarian relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami.
Dr. Casscells helped invent medical devices and new techniques in detecting heart attacks and started companies to sell them. He founded a company to compile health data for policymakers. And he was well published, producing papers on heart attack and stroke, medical ethics, and nanotechnology and writing ‘‘When It Mattered Most’’ (2009), a tribute to medics killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dr. Casscells leaves his wife, the former Roxanne Bell; his sons, Samuel Ward IV and Henry; his daughter, Lillian; a brother, Christopher; and two sisters, Anne Casscells and Margaret Casscells-