TWYMAN email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-10-22 published
BERGSAGEL, Daniel Egil, CM, MD, D.Phil
(April 25, 1925-October 20, 2007)
Passed away peacefully at Mount Sinai Hospital after a brief illness. He is survived by his wife of 57 years Joyce (née SIGURDSON) brother John, sister Marion TWYMAN; daughter Karin; sons Paul, John, Leif; grandchildren Bram and Ben ISGUR, Parker, Davis, Caroline, Matteo, and Marco. Danny attended Outlook College and Camrose Lutheran College before obtaining his medical degree from the University of Manitoba. After pursuing training in internal medicine and hematology under Doctor Max Wintrobe at the University of Utah, he completed his D.Phil at Oxford University. He began his career in hematology at the M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, becoming a pioneer in medical oncology, and world renowned for developing the first effective treatment for multiple myeloma. He was physician-in-chief at the Princess Margaret Hospital from 1964 to 1991. He remained active in myeloma research even in retirement. He was an Emeritus Professor of the University of Toronto and Member of the Order of Canada. He loved his work but was also a 'bon vivant' and equally loved to entertain, sing, travel and visit family and Friends. A funeral service will be held at Saint Ansgar Lutheran Church, 1498 Avenue Road, North York on Wednesday, October 24 at 2: 00 p.m. Reception to follow at home. In lieu of flowers please send donations to the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation. Images of his life can be seen, and notes and comments shared at www.daniel_bergsagel.legacy.com
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TWYMAN firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2007-12-11 published
He set the standard for myeloma research
Saskatchewan-born cancer pioneer and bon vivant was celebrated for his knowledge, grace and fairness
By Alicia PRIEST, Special to The Globe and Mail, Page S8
Victoria -- A pioneer in cancer research who set the standard of treatment for an uncommon but incurable form of blood cancer for some 40 years, Daniel BERGSAGEL was also a bon vivant and a family man at a time when the world allowed dedicated scientists to have a life apart from work.
Multiple myeloma, which is found when bone marrow produces large quantities of abnormal plasma cells, is the second-most prevalent blood cancer, representing about 1 per cent of all cancers and 2 per cent of all cancer deaths. Doctor BERGSAGEL's contribution to treating it was in developing the use of a drug called mephalan - the first effective treatment for myeloma patients at a time when the only other medicinal option was urethane, a toxic paint thinner that has since been withdrawn from pharmaceutical use.
Celebrated for his knowledge, grace and fairness, Doctor BERGSAGEL was inspired and taught by Doctor Max Wintrobe, a Canadian hematologist who worked in the United States and, significantly, was part of the team that first established the use of chemotherapy. Later, as chief of medicine at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital for 26 years, Doctor BERGSAGEL trained a generation of Canadian oncologists who went on to train later generations of cancer warriors.
"If you were to name a grandfather of medical oncology in Canada, I don't think there would really be any competition - Danny would be it," said Doctor Ian TANNOCK, the current Daniel Bergsagel Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Toronto.
However, Doctor BERGSAGEL's passion for his patients and dedication to myeloma research never eclipsed his love of the arts, literature, wine, travel, good food and, above all, family. He was as comfortable leading a round of song at a wedding as leading medical rounds in hospital. Unlike many professionals today, he combined his vocation with his personal life in a way that enriched both. When his children were young, he would take them to his laboratory on weekends. Once, he showed two of his sons the small white mice he used in some of his experiments. Later, when son John was asked what his father did for a living, he answered: "He's a mouse doctor. And not a very good one because most of his mice die." Both those sons are now practising hematologists, and one - Doctor Leif BERGSAGEL - is internationally recognized for identifying the genetic changes that cause myeloma.
Another example of how deftly Doctor BERGSAGEL blended the professional with the personal was his insistence that his wife accompany him on the many meetings he attended around the world. When possible, he also took the children. He once transformed a visiting professorship at the University of Manchester into a two-month vacation in England and France for the entire family. Often, he would turn to his family and say, "Aren't we lucky to be here and to being doing this?" Back in Toronto, the family home had an open-door policy, with Doctor BERGSAGEL regularly bringing colleagues home for dinner. Although conversations tended to start with medicine, they rarely stayed on topic.
"I had the pleasure to be invited to his home," said Jan WESTIN, a medical researcher with the University of Lund, Sweden. "After long discussions on myeloma therapy, he also interrogated me regarding the best recipe for Swedish snaps."
Another Swedish scientist - Gosta Gahrton from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, remembered a certain medical meeting in the Middle East - "Then, we talked not about myeloma but about carpets," Doctor Gahrton said.
Daniel BERGSAGEL was born into a devout and close-knit Lutheran family in Outlook, a small farming community in west-central Saskatchewan, 80 kilometres southwest of Saskatoon. His father, a Norwegian immigrant, was president of Outlook Lutheran College, and later an ordained minister serving Lutheran parishes in rural Saskatchewan. His mother, born in Minnesota, also came from Norwegian stock. As a child, his playground was the prairie and woods bounding the South Saskatchewan River. He was the oldest of three children and remained connected to his brother John and his sister Marion throughout his life. Music played a big part in the family's life, and Doctor BERGSAGEL developed a love and talent for singing that led him to join choirs, barbershop quartets and even an opera chorus.
After graduating from Camrose Lutheran College, he entered premed studies at the University of Manitoba. Accepted into medical school, he supported his studies by working as a porter on the Canadian Pacific Railway, where he supplemented his earnings with poker winnings - a fact carefully hidden from his strictly religious parents. While at university, he joined the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. During one production, he met a young woman whose grandparents had emigrated from Iceland. The two were married in 1950. Perhaps it was their shared Nordic heritage that cemented what was an exceptionally strong partnership. Choosing Joyce SIGURDSON to be his life companion, his brother John BERGSAGEL says, "was the wisest thing he ever did."
After graduation and a brief stint working in northern Manitoba, Dr. BERGSAGEL pursued postgraduate studies in hematology with Dr. Wintrobe in Salt Lake City, Utah. He made the decision after being diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes - he needed to work in a specialty that allowed regular hours and meals. The arrival of his daughter Karin in 1952 and his son Paul two years later were yet more reasons.
Although Doctor BERGSAGEL thrived under Doctor Wintrobe's rigorous tutelage, years later he would tell his grandchildren: "I still have the creepy feeling that he checks everything I do." With his mentor's help, he was accepted at Oxford, where he received a doctorate in 1955 before accepting a position as hematologist at the M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston.
His fascination with proteins and drug therapy led him to specialize in patients with myeloma. If science was to make any headway in defeating this disease, he once said, it needed a better understanding of the disease, and better drugs to treat it. At that time, urethane - which had been in common use for about 20 years - was proving to cause more harm than help. In fact, M.D. Anderson did not admit people suffering from myeloma because nothing therapeutic could be offered them. However, Doctor BERGSAGEL obtained consent to admit myeloma patients for the testing of new drugs. The first one he tried was mephalan. It had a significant effect and became the standard therapy worldwide for more then 40 years, remaining in use today. In recognition of this achievement, he was awarded the first ever Waldenstrom Award for myeloma research.
While treated well in Texas, where he was happy and productive and even became a U.S. citizen, Doctor BERGSAGEL could not resist an offer to work with prominent scientists at the Ontario Cancer Institute and to serve as chief of medicine at Princess Margaret. The family returned to Canada in 1964, having expanded to include John and Leif.
For the next 25 years, Doctor BERGSAGEL conducted research, treated patients, and taught interns and residents while administering medical matters. Under him, the hospital made huge advances in cancer treatment. When he arrived, the hospital had just 12 beds designated for medicine, as opposed to surgery or radiation. Today, as part of the University Health Network's oncology and blood disorders program, it is the largest medical oncology centre of its kind in Canada.
Highly respected as an academic and scientist and cherished for his gentleness and attention to life's simple pleasures, Doctor BERGSAGEL loved his work but also loved to entertain. He enthusiastically took part in Princess Margaret Hospital's annual Christmas concert. His children always had to wait to open their presents until he returned from the hospital, where he carved the turkey for patients.
"It wasn't that sometimes he wasn't competitive or couldn't get cross, but he was always a very gentlemanly figure," said Doctor TANNOCK, who first met him in 1976. "The worst swear word I ever heard him use was 'Drat.' "
However, he was not without his old-school idiosyncrasies. Extremely polite with women, he nonetheless had trouble accepting their presence in medicine.
"Gad," he would say. "They'll just go off and have kids!" On one occasion, he had a meeting with four female doctors in the same small room. All happened to be pregnant and he gingerly avoided bumping into one.
Another quirk was that he always wore a collar, clean white shirt, and tie - even to do the gardening.
Dr. BERGSAGEL retired at age 65 but remained active and interested in myeloma research. In 2001, he was named to the Order of Canada. Then, in 2002, the diabetes that he had managed for so long took its toll and he suffered a stroke, which left his right arm severely weakened. More recently, his vascular system worsened, and late this year he suffered a serious heart attack followed by a large stroke.
"He will be remembered for his very human qualities - he was kind and genuinely interested in the lives and careers of those who worked with him," recalled Toronto oncologist Jacinta MEHARCHAND. "His patients had ultimate trust in him."
Daniel Egil BERGSAGEL was born in Outlook, Saskatchewan., on April 25, 1925. After suffering a heart attack and stroke, he died at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto on October 20, 2007. He was 82. He is survived by Joyce, his wife of 57 years, plus brother John BERGSAGEL, sister Marion TWYMAN, daughter Karin, sons Paul, John, Leif and seven grandchildren.
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