In Memoriam: Harvey Sugerman, MD, FACS, FASMBS

| September 1, 2020

Harvey J. Sugerman, 82, was one of the pioneers in the field of bariatric surgery and is responsible for founding Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases (SOARD) in 2005, of which he remained the clinical editor-in-chief until his passing in August 2020. Dr. Sugerman served as the president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) from 2004 to 2005 and established SOARD as the society’s official journal. Prior to his retirement in 2003, he spent 25 years working at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), beginning as an assistant professor at the VCU School of Medicine in 1978 and ultimately serving as interim chairman of the Department of Surgery from 1999 to 2001.

Dedication Messages

Eric DeMaria: I’m sorry to make this note too long, but I want to add my thoughts about Harvey, and I found myself incapable of writing something short enough. Most of you know that I worked with Harvey (aka, I worked for Harvey) for over 13 years at Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. He was my Division Chief and, for a while, my Department Chair. I knew quickly after joining the faculty that Harvey was the person I wanted to be mentored by, and I was thrilled when he asked me if I wanted to get involved in doing some gastric bypasses. So began a productive relationship in which I got to know him well. I am forever grateful to have worked closely with him, that I was able to see him up close “in action” nearly every day during those years, and for his kindness and his support for me as I began my own career. One of the greatest compliments I have ever been paid was that Harvey (apparently) trusted me as a surgeon, as I was nearly always the one he asked to cover for his patients. He was very protective of his patients and wanted nothing but the best for them. They, in turn, adored him. As they should have. Years later, I became the Chief of that Division after Harvey was forced by health issues to retire too young—one of several unfair twists in life for him, as he should have enjoyed more years practicing the craft he loved and had mastered. Yet we collectively benefited from this twist, as it led to his single-minded focus on the pursuit of tremendous success for SOARD. He was a leader in every sense of the word—tough, but kind. Goal-oriented and dedicated. An adventurous and inquisitive spirit. A dedicated academician. A bit of a curmudgeon at times. Yet, he never expected anything from us that he didn’t already expect of, and adhere to, himself. I watched him crusade tirelessly for every cause that he thought was right, no matter the odds against him. Our field has indeed lost an icon—a man who refused to break even when life dealt him challenges that would break anyone. He will be missed greatly, and by many.

Kelvin Higa: His keynote lecture at Raul Rosenthal’s meeting was one of the most memorable and outstanding talks I have ever heard. Clearly a glimpse into the soul of a very complex, brilliant man. But, I remember the first time he and I spoke. It was after a live telesurgery to some conference where he was faculty. Right after I had finished, I received a call in the operating room. He introduced himself as “I don’t know if you know me…” Right! Ha! “But I have to tell you that you are doing it wrong.” To hear this, one might think, “Typical Harvey.” But no. His tone was not condescending or arrogant. It was almost apologetic and humble. It was the master passing on wisdom to the student. I was honored. By the way, he was concerned that I did not do a good enough job closing the mesenteric defects! I know he has found the peace he deserves.

Henry Buchwald: Harvey had many friends and a world of people who knew him. He earned this affection and recognition by respect—respect for his integrity, honesty, high professional standards, and an unswerving dedication to our discipline of metabolic/bariatric surgery. When it came to what was the correct thing to do, he was uncompromising; when it came to matters of opinion, he listened, reflected, and re-thought. He was a strong man in a field of strong people, and in this arena, he was in the forefront in combating the prejudices against obesity and for the proper care of our patients. He was a pioneer, a leader, and exemplar to emulate. We will miss him, but we will often quote him.

Walter Pories: Harvey never got the credit for all of his accomplishments because he was such a curmudgeon. Opinionated, but almost always right, he didn’t much care what you thought unless you added an idea. What counted was the truth and facts. That kept him from becoming the Chair at Richmond, but it led to his being one of our premier scientists and politicians. We confronted the folks at Medicare together to get them to agree to fund bariatric surgery and I, confronted with the storm of refusals, was ready to retreat. Not Harvey—he just kept punching and eventually, they caved. That led to the approval by the private centers, a victory he never proclaimed and most folks were unaware of. It was a crucial advance. And finally, who but Harvey could give such an eloquent address that none of us we’ll ever forget. We always end these comments with some phrase such as “he’ll be missed,” but in this case, it is not just a phrase. It is really true. He will be missed a lot.

Raul Rosenthal: Three weeks ago, together with my dear wife, Sima, we went to Naples, Florida, to visit Harvey. We had a long and beautiful conversation about family, life, and of course, the journal. Against my wife’s wishes who wanted to buy Harvey something healthy and organic for him to indulge, I chose to buy him cookies. Sima said to Harvey, “I wasn’t sure you would like these sweets.” Harvey, however, answered beautifully to Sima and said “Of course I love cookies and sweets, I am a “Sugerman!” I think of how privileged I was to have a last glimpse to my friend, partner, and mentor and to be with a true giant in surgery. Harvey Sugerman will stay with us forever. As nicely stated by Henry Buchwald, “We will miss him,  but we will quote him often.” On behalf of the world of surgery, SOARD, ASMBS, and thousands of lives Harvey touched, we say goodbye to our friend and master, Harvey Sugerman. May he rest in peace.

Kimberly Davis, Matthew Martin, and Grace Rozycki: Harvey Sugerman was an incredible inspiration and example of that rare type of surgeon who was able achieve notoriety and success in multiple fields.  He was a gentleman, scholar, and friend who will be greatly missed by the trauma surgery community. He had an intellectual curiosity that questioned practice paradigms and improved patient care through scientific inquiry.  President of the Western Trauma Association in 2004, he was welcoming to more junior attendees of the meeting, imbuing all with the underlying culture of the “fellowship of the snow.” Harvey provided life lessons on the chairlifts and black diamonds slopes and was always willing to provide advice and guidance.  His support and friendship allowed multiple generations of residents and surgeons to hone their clinical, academic, and educational skills.  He was a tireless advocate, mentor, and friend to military surgeons and military surgery. He ensured meticulous care of patients by making the pursuit of perfection routine. He encouraged all of us to not be afraid to tackle something new, and when you do, to study it diligently and collect the data to prove its worth. Harvey was a person of great character who lived a life filled with service and contributions that mattered. To use a quote from his WTA Presidential Address: “We want to leave the world a better place than we found it, and we can do it for many as well as the few, that is so much the better”. He was a scholar, and friend who will be greatly missed! 


Category: In Memoriam, Past Articles

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