Columbia County Couple Honors Dr. Brian Valerian

From left: Bill and Susan Droege with Brian Valerian, MD.

Bequest Advances Research, Education

Susan Droege and her husband, Bill, are so fond of her surgeon Brian Valerian, MD, that they often joke they’d like to clone him. And while that prospect is, of course, outside the realm of possibility, they have done something else to help ensure his gifts as a physician are multiplied in an extraordinary way.

Through a bequest, they have endowed the Susan Droege Distinguished Chair in Surgery in his honor.

The Germantown couple first met Dr. Valerian, a colorectal surgeon and professor of surgery, in 2005 when Susan was referred to him for treatment of complications related to Crohn’s disease.

“From the very beginning, he put my mind at ease,” she said. “He laid everything out for us. Here is what’s happening. Here are the things we can do. I have complete trust in him.”

He, too, remembers their early meetings. “Bill always came with Susan to her appointments, and I was struck by what kind, down-to-earth people they are,” he said. “They travel to the kinds of places I could only dream about going, like immersive tours to the Arctic to live among polar bears. They always show me their pictures, and it’s fun to live vicariously.”

In the intervening years, Susan’s health has become further complicated by a cancer diagnosis and, while Dr. Valerian’s specialty doesn’t always align with the specific treatment she needs, he has stayed close to the couple, providing care when he can and guidance when that’s not possible.

He has connected Susan to other specialists. He stood by in the operating room when she underwent a particularly complicated OB/GYN procedure—and, later, sat with Bill in surgical waiting and listened as he spoke about his love for his wife and his concern for their future.

“For much of my relationship with the Droeges, I’ve just listened,” Dr. Valerian said. “Susan might ask me, ‘Am I going down the right path?’ If I don’t know the answer, I’ll reach out to a colleague.” He also continues to manage her colorectal care.

When the Droeges told Dr. Valerian their plans for the endowed chair, he was stunned. “I still feel sort of overcome when I talk about it,” he said. “This is a dream for an academic surgeon.” He remembers calling his mother on his way home from work that evening—a woman whose kindness and genuine nature he has tried to model in his approach to patient care.

“She was as overjoyed as I was,” he said. “She was yelling and cheering on the other end of the line, and then there was a pause and she said, ‘What’s an endowed chair?’”

These special academic appointments carry considerable prestige and commitment to the recipient’s field of study by providing a permanent, stable source of departmental funding. The Droeges’ bequest will allow Dr. Valerian, as program director of the Colon and Rectal Surgery Fellowship, to fuel significant educational and research efforts within the Colon and Rectal Surgery Program.

“This will let us really deepen what we can offer to our residents and fellows,” Dr. Valerian said. “It will give us the flexibility and freedom to focus on the things we think are most important in education. And it will help increase our recognition locally and even nationally. A gift like this can really put you on the map.”

For the Droeges, the idea of a future generation of physicians being influenced by someone who’s been so important to them is very confidence-inspiring.

“We wanted to do something good for the community,” Susan said. “We feel this will have a long-term influence on the lives of many people, the way it has on ours.”