I am no doubt among those in complete shock today with the news that prominent gastroenterologist Dr. Ernest Seidman has passed away.
In his decades of work in the field of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Dr. Seidman had a steady influence on so many people in the field worldwide. An international symposium on gastroenterology in his honour which I attended less than two years ago, at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) brought that point home loud and clear.
The symposium gathered over 100 medical professionals from across Canada, the United States, Europe and the Middle East whose lives have been influenced by Dr. Seidman. Speakers and moderators were renowned experts in IBD, all either former trainees or close colleagues of the honouree.
Dr. Anna Sant’Anna from the Montreal Children’s Hospital came up with the idea for the symposium, conceiving it as a “festschrift.” That term refers to a book honouring a respected person, especially an academic, and presented during their lifetime. It generally takes the form of an edited volume, containing contributions from the honouree's colleagues, former pupils, and friends.
“This has been a very memorable experience for me,” Dr. Seidman told me. “There was no actual book, but I will certainly collect the material from all of the extraordinary presentations. I want to thank Dr. Sant’Anna. She approached me about this last year when I was not well. Normally a festschrift is done for someone who is retiring. Fortunately that is not the case for me. If anything I will be increasing my workload.”.
Dr. Seidman obtained his undergraduate (B.Sc. 1974, Honors Physiology, Magna Cum Laude) and medical degrees (MDCM 1978, W. Chipman Gold Medalist) at McGill University. His residency training in pediatric medicine and a clinical fellowship in gastroenterology (adult and pediatric) were undertaken at McGill and the Université de Montréal. He then completed his research fellowship in Mucosal Immunology at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Seidman’s first academic position as a clinician scientist was at Harvard (Massachusetts General and Boston Children’s Hospitals, 1983 to 85). He returned to the Université de Montréal and was ultimately promoted to the rank of full professor and chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Ste. Justine Hospital, a post held until 2004. He then came back to his alma mater of McGill as the inaugural recipient of the Bruce Kaufman Endowed Chair in IBD. He held the rank of tenured Professor in the Departments of Medicine and of Pediatrics at McGill. He was the Director of GI Research, the Advanced Fellowship Program in IBD at McGill, the Video Endoscopy Program and Research Institute at the MUHC and the Canada Research Chair in Immune Mediated Gastrointestinal Disorders.
Dr. Seidman’s clinical and research activities (both basic science and clinical) were focused on immune-mediated GI disorders, most notably inflammatory bowel and celiac diseases. He was named the Canada Research Chair in Immune-Mediated Gastrointestinal Disorders. He was also elected to the International Organization for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Among major grants funded, he was the principal investigator for a Canadian Institutes of Health Research New Emerging Team Grant in Clinical Autoimmunity focusing on Immunoregulation in IBD. He was the author of over 275 original, peer-reviewed articles and more than 85 chapters and reviews. In addition, he was the co-inventor of the thiopurine drug metabolite test and was considered the founder of therapeutic drug monitoring for IBD. He was very proud of the McGill IBD Centre of Excellence at the Montreal General Hospital, which he still presided over. Just a few weeks ago he was front and center as the co-chair of a highly successful fundraising event with Lorne Mayers. I spoke to him during cocktails and remarked how good he looked. Ernie had suffered a number of setbacks over the last few years, but he persevered and was finally back seeing patients and conducting his groundbreaking research.
They say that everyone is replaceable but the passing of Dr. Seidman leaves a huge void.
On the Paperman.com site, Lise Ouakine commented: “After many visits to many doctors, it was Dr. Seidman who got my disease under control. I owe the remission I am in, and have been for a couple of years now, to the time and care he provided me, always looking one step further than the labs showed him, and never forgetting to look at the patient in front of him and see the whole person. I owe him all the energy I have now and all the health I am in. Dr Seidman gave me my life back. He will forever remain special to me. I know that if he was able to pass on just one ounce of the person he was and the Kindness and care he provided his patients, that world will forever be enriched because of him.”
In what would be his final speech a few weeks ago at the fundraiser, Dr. Seidman even joked about his health.
"My co-chair and buddy Lorne Mayers commented that even I look good tonight, especially compared to two years ago," he smiled. "He recalled that I was looking severely ill back then, which is not far from the truth.
"So I feel truly blessed to be here with you again tonight and owe huge thanks to my full time, live-in nurse Marcy; my loving wife who has been instrumental in helping me recover my health, which brings me to my theme for this evening: we are family. The members of our McGill IBD yeam that I’m representing here tonight strive to provide the highest quality of care to our patients and their families. Our mission at McGill IBD is to provide state of the art care, train the next generation of IBD specialists and carry out ground-breaking research into the cause and management of IBD.
"The typical patient I follow would have been a teenager at diagnosis. As much as it is a challenge to manage IBD during these formative years of life, I find it so rewarding. I consider my patients as part of my family. Nothing makes me happier than following these young patients as they fall in love and have families of their own. I am so happy when they come to see me for follow up visits with their significant others and children. As those of you who know me well realize, my patients’ children are like grandchildren to me. All of you here tonight are part of our extended McGill IBD family."
Melissa Diamond, who coordinated Dr. Seidman's research lab told me: "I am so incredibly sad. I will miss him everyday. As for his work I will do my best to make sure his legacy as a world renowned clinician researcher will not be forgotten."
Funeral services will be held Wednesday at 11 am at Paperman and Son.
To his wife Marcy, whom he reminded us only a few weeks ago was his “rock,” and the rest of his family I extended my deepest sympathies. I will miss him terribly and so many others whose lives he changed will as well.
The two major types of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The main difference between Crohn's and ulcerative colitis is the nature and location of the inflammation. Crohn's can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis is restricted to the large bowel or colon. It is estimated that over 200,000 Canadians are affected by IBD. Although IBD is most often diagnosed in patients between 12 to 35 years of age, it can less commonly occur in people who are 70 or older and in young children as well. In fact, about 20 percent of those affected are children and adolescents.