EVERYONE KNOWS that Dr. William J. Dignam, who died in December 2006 at the age of 85, was an eminent physician. Among many other titles, he was president of the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society, so it is not surprising that people sought him out to have him deliver their children – 30,000 in all, a veritable city of babies.
Less well-known, perhaps, is the fact that Dr. Dignam also wore many other hats. He was, first and foremost, a family man. The light of his life was Mrs. Winifred Dignam, an airline stewardess so beautiful that she was pursued by the actor Errol Flynn – that is, until Dr. Dignam, fresh from combat duty in the South Pacific, swooped in and, providing a happily-ever-after ending to a courtship that began prior to the start of the war, married her. (Mrs. Dignam died in July 2007 at the age of 87.) Together they raised four daughters, one of whom competed on the grass courts of Wimbledon, and another who convinced Dr. Dignam, against his will – after all, he had many patients to see – to spend the better part of an afternoon in a non-speaking cameo role as the title character of the movie The Crossing Guard, starring Jack Nicholson. It is his sole entry in the Internet Movie Database.
Students came to know Dr. Dignam through one of his professional passions: teaching. Over the past half-a-century – he was at the Center for Health Sciences when it first opened – Dr. Dignam has trained generations of fellows and residents and, in the process, infl uenced the entire field of obstetrics and gynecology. Moreover, Dr. Dignam, who could have used his much-sought-after time in myriad different ways, also took a keen interest in teaching us, the bumbling neophytes who are just beginning their careers in medicine.
Learning from him was, of course, a unique experience. When we were trying to understand the etiology of Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, for instance, Dr. Dignam regaled us with stories about Dr. Zollinger – or, as he was known at Massachusetts General, Ol’ Zollie – being a cocky son-of-agun. At the same time, Dr. Dignam also took the time to get to know us outside of the classroom, whether it was watching one of his students perform a Bollywood dance at the annual talent show or celebrating the end of a battery of finals with a champagne toast at the Faculty Center.
These words will never do justice to the reverence and esteem that the students and faculty of this school hold for him. Nevertheless, we celebrate his life and remember the many ways, large and small, Dr. Dignam has impacted our lives here at UCLA. – Charles Feng (M.D. ’09)
Dr. William J. Dignam with his family
Photography: courtesy of the Dignam family
This article was adapted and reprinted with permission from the Spring 2007 issue of UCLA Beat, the literary magazine of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
DR. SAMUEL EIDUSON, professor emeritus of biological chemistry and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, died June 19, 2007. He was 88 years old. Dr. Eiduson completed his undergraduate work and earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at UCLA. In 1955, he founded the Neurobiochemistry Laboratory at the Brentwood V.A. Hospital, which was one of the early laboratories dedicated to the study of the biochemistry of the brain. In 1974, he became the first chairman of the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Ph.D. Program at the Brain Research Institute, which, for the past 15 years, has celebrated the Samuel Eiduson Student Lecture to recognize an outstanding neuroscience graduate student.
DR. HOWARD L. JUDD, professor emeritus in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, died July 19, 2007, at his home in Santa Monica. He was 71 years old. Dr. Judd joined the UCLA faculty as a professor and chief in the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility in 1977, after beginning his academic career at UC San Diego. He was internationally recognized for his research in menopause, endometriosis and polycystic ovarian disease. He was the principal investigator at UCLA of the NIH-funded Woman's Health Initiative Grant from 1994 until his retirement in 2005.
REV. JAMES PUTNEY, the outpatient oncology staff chaplain at UCLA Medical Center for nearly 10 years, died August 14, 2007. He was 55 years old. The popular chaplain stood just under 4 feet tall due to a form of dwarfism that necessitated numerous surgeries before he reached adulthood and gave him a particular empathy with patients. Rev. Putney was also on the medical school faculty and mentored students in the doctoring program.
DR. LORI L. ALTSHULER, professor-in-residence at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, received the Falcone Prize for Affective Disorders Research from the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD): The Mental Health Research Association for her work on bipolar disorders, women and depression. Dr. Altshuler also received a Distinguished Investigator Award from the organization, recognizing her use of imaging to understand brain structures and behavior in people with bipolar disorder.
DR. GERALD D. BUCKBERG, distinguished professor of cardiothoracic surgery, was awarded the 2007 Scientific Achievement Award by the American Association for Thoracic Surgery for his significant contributions in the field of myocardial preservation and his study of the anatomy and functional changes that cause heart failure.
DR. RONALD W. BUSUTTIL, professor and executive chairman of surgery, who holds both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, received the Medallion for Scientific Achievement, the highest honor bestowed by the American Surgical Association. Internationally recognized for his expertise in liver transplantation and hepatobiliary surgery, Dr. Busuttil is the founding chief of liver and pancreas transplantation at UCLA.
DR. LOUIS J. IGNARRO, professor of pharmacology, was elected to the American Philosophical Society, which recognizes extraordinary achievements in science, letters and the arts. Dr. Ignarro received the 1998 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his groundbreaking discovery of the importance of nitric oxide in cardiovascular health.
DR. PAUL MISCHEL, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, received the Farber Award from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Society for Neuro-oncology. The award recognizes promising investigators who achieve significant results early in their careers. Dr. Mischel’s research focuses on developing molecularly targeted treatments for brain tumors.
DR. MARSHALL MORGAN, professor and director of emergency medicine, received the 2007 Sherman M. Mellinkoff Faculty Award. Considered the highest award given by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the Mellinkoff Award celebrates an ongoing commitment to patients and medical education.
DR. JEFFREY L. SAVER, professor of neurology and director of the UCLA Stroke Center, received the American Heart Association (AHA) Stroke Council Award for his research that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of stroke, encompassing neuroimaging, clinical-trial design and the neurocognitive consequences of stroke.
DR. MARTIN F. SHAPIRO, professor of medicine and chief of general internal medicine and health-services research, received the Herbert W. Nickens Award from the Society of General Internal Medicine, for his commitment to cultural diversity in medicine. He is internationally recognized for his work on access to care, health disparities and the care of people with HIV.
DR. DENNIS J. SLAMON, professor of medicine and chief of hematology/ oncology and director of clinical/translational research at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, received the Warren Alpert Foundation Scientific Prize and the 2007 Gairdner Foundation International Award for his work in the development of Herceptin, one of the first molecularly targeted drug therapies for breast cancer.
DR. E. RICHARD STIEHM, professor of pediatrics in the Division of Immunology/ Allergy/Rheumatology at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, received the 2007 American Society of Microbiology’s Abbott Laboratories Award in Clinical and Diagnostic Immunology for his outstanding accomplishments in research and treatment of primary and secondary immune-deficiency disorders in infants and children.
Funding agency: National Institute of Mental Health
Grant amount: $3.8 million
Grant duration: 4 years
Principal investigator: Dr. Roel A. Ophoff, assistant professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences
Summary: UCLA will lead a genetic study of schizophrenia, which will be among the first to study the complete human genome – the full set of human genes – in order to pinpoint those related to this mental disorder.
Funding agency: National Institutes of Health
Grant amount: $22.5 million
Grant duration: 5 years
Principal investigator: Dr. Robert M. Bilder, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and psychology
Summary: The Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics (CNP) aims to examine key behavioral, cognitive and neural-system traits (phenotypes) that are theoretically important vulnerability factors for diverse neuropsychiatric disorders, and determine their associations with genotypes and biological mechanisms, integrating studies in patients and healthy people with basic research. The CNP will also develop new analysis methods and tools to evaluate complex scientific models relating the whole genome to neuropsychiatric syndromes.
Funding agency: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Grant amount: $7 million
Grant duration: 5 years
Principal investigator: Dr. Mark S. Litwin, professor of urology and public health
Co-principal investigator: Dr. Christopher Saigal, associate professor of urology
Summary: This study and report on the impact of urologic diseases in America will help address insurance coverage, access to care, allocation of research dollars and availability of treatment and services.
Funding agency: National Institutes of Health
Grant amount: $4.5 million supplemental funding to $12.8-million grant received in 2005
Grant duration: 3 years
Principal investigator: Dr. Peter A. Anton, professor of medicine in the Division of Digestive Diseases
Summary: Researchers will develop microbicides, which are products to help prevent or reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted infections like HIV.