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A Tribute to Dr. David Sugarbaker, Mesothelioma Treatment Pioneer

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The world lost a talented physician and mesothelioma victims a valuable resource when Dr. David Sugarbaker passed away this week at age 65. Not only was Dr. Sugarbaker a skilled thoracic surgeon, but he was a leader in the battle against pleural mesothelioma working towards advanced treatments and better outcomes for his patients.

Here at Bergman Draper Oslund, we knew and treasured Dr. David Sugarbaker because he treated many of our clients at his offices in Boston and Houston. Firm partner Glenn Draper said, “Dr. Sugarbaker was a forward thinker always looking for ways to improve the lives of mesothelioma patients and was there for them at every step of their journey.”

Dr. Sugarbaker found his passion for medicine early on at the knee of his father, himself a physician and surgeon. He attended Wheaton College and then Cornell University Medical School. Sugarbaker had a surgical residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and another at Toronto General Hospital where he worked in cardiothoracics.

Sugarbaker excelled at every step along the way, becoming chief resident in thoracic and cardiac surgery at Toronto General before moving to a residency in pediatric cardiac surgery. It was at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston where Dr. Sugarbaker refined and focused his practice on pleural mesothelioma.

He was an early pioneer in lung transplants and training other surgeons the skills he developed and mastered. Sugarbaker was a Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical and founded the International Mesothelioma Program devoted to curing mesothelioma. He then moved to Houston and founded a treatment center devoted to mesothelioma patients.

Sugarbaker was the recipient of the Henry D. Chadwick Medal from the from the American Lung Association and the Pioneer Award from the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. For the past 15 years, Dr. Sugarbaker was honored each year as one of America’s Top Doctors for his groundbreaking work with and for mesothelioma patients.

Dr. Abraham Lebenthal, whom Sugarbaker trained, said of his friend and mentor that Dr. Sugarbaker as “the gold standard” and added, “He is Dr. Mesothelioma.” Dr. Jacques Fontaine, another surgeon that worked with Sugarbaker, said, “His legacy will endure through the accomplishments of all the prominent thoracic surgeons he has trained.”

Fontaine also said, “He is the mentor of mentors. His vision, focus, and dedication to advancing the treatment of mesothelioma have influenced an entire generation of thoracic surgeons.” Dr. David Sugarbaker as known around the world for using surgery to manage pleural mesothelioma and other thoracic cancers.

Sugarbaker refined techniques for extrapleural pneumonectomy and intraoperative heated chemotherapy. He staged clinical trials to improve surgical techniques and therapy drugs for pleural mesothelioma. Some of Sugarbaker’s medical innovations included the development of multimodality therapy for mesothelioma, cytoreductive surgery, and macroscopic complete resection.

One of his patients, Heather Von St James, said, “Dr. David Sugarbaker saved my life and gave me a future. How do you thank someone for that? I am his legacy and will carry on for him.”

Sadly, it was cancer that took the life of Dr. David Sugarbaker at age 65 after his decades spent combating this terrible disease. Dr. Sugarbaker’s passing represents a loss for the mesothelioma community, but the techniques and therapies he developed will continue to save lives for years to come.

Dr. Sugarbaker will be missed by everyone at Bergman Draper Oslund and we send condolences to his friends, family, colleagues, and loved ones on his passing.

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