Category Archives: Obituaries

I’m going to miss me…

A world in mourning

So I woke up this morning to find tons of hits on my website (, way more than I’ve had in many a moon. What in the world is up, I wondered. Did some big shot celebrity finally recommend Birth Day? Some book award left over from 2010? Did I win the lottery? (Tough to do without a ticket, but still…)

So I Googled references to my book, and searched Amazon to see if there’d been a sales “bump,” but no. Hmmm…a mystery.

Then I thought of my alter ego, Dr. Mark Sloan (aka “McSteamy) on Grey’s Anatomy, the source of many a snicker when I’m introduced at conferences and talks. (It got so bad a few years back that I’d start my talks with a photo of McSteamy and just wait for the laughter to die down.) Had something happened to him?


Sure enough. When I Googled “McSteamy” there it was: hundreds of posts and tributes, and millions of grieving fans. Last night, right there in the middle of the season opener, they went and killed me…er, him, off.

Not sure how he died, as I haven’t seen the show in years, but from the tear-stained posts it apparently involves a smash-up, a coma, and a pre-crash wish not to remain on life support for more than 30 days. Or something. Whatever the case, they granted his wish, and a bit of me went with him when they pulled the plug.

An accurate portrayal

Please: no flowers, no sympathy cards. I’ll carry on somehow. I’ve been through this before, you know, back when they cancelled Diagnosis: Murder. Just when I thought the pain would never end, in walked McSteamy with his pecs and his bath towel. Who knows where Dr. Mark Sloan will pop up next?

I’m betting on a reality show: Who Wants to be the Next Dr. Mark Sloan? Maybe I’ll enter, though they might disqualify me on the grounds of a pre-existing condition: I’m already him.


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Obituary: Else Holmelund Minarik

An old favorite

Else Holmelund Minarik died recently at the age of 91. Working with Maurice Sendak, she created the “Little Bear” books, which were a staple back in the day, when picture books were an every day (and night) staple for my kids.

I miss picture books! I once knew “The Cat in the Hat” by heart. For some reason my son, John, loved one particular rhyming snippet of that story: “But I like it here! Oh, I like it a lot!” Said the Cat in the Hat to the fish in the pot.” He’d make me repeat it a few times before moving on. Cracked him (and me) up every time.

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Obituary: Gumby

Survivors include the ever-faithful Pokey…

Dick Beals, the voice of Gumby, Speedy Alka-Seltzer, Davey (of Davey and Goliath), and a zillion other characters, has died at the age of 85. You youngsters may not get all those references, but Beals’s voice was a kind of a childhood background-soundtrack to those of us of a certain age. He did over 3,000 cartoons and commercials, apparently…

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Obituaries: Samuel Glazer and Murray Lender

Breakfast of champions!

Two men who played an important role in my medical education died recently: Samuel Glazer, co-inventor of the Mr. Coffee coffee-maker, and Murray Lender, who introduced frozen bagels to a nation that, until the 1970s, didn’t realize it needed them.

Fresh or days old: Didn't matter.

On behalf of those of us who somehow survived on a Glazer-and-Lender-based diet, a moment of silence…

(I wonder if the inventor of the bear-claw is still alive?)

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Obituary: Mary Ellen Avery, M.D.

Mary Ellen Avery, M.D. (1927-2011)

The work of Dr. Mary Ellen Avery, who died December 4th, is well-known to anyone who has worked in an intensive care nursery in the last 50 years. Her career was studded with a long list of “firsts”–first woman to be appointed physician in chief at Children’s Hospital Boston; first woman to head a clinical department at Harvard Medical School; first pediatrician to head the American Association for the Advancement of Science, etc., etc.–but she is best known for a discovery that to date has saved nearly a million premature babies.

In the early 1960s, Avery and her colleagues unravelled the mystery of why so many premature babies died of respiratory distress syndrome (or hyaline membrane disease, as it was known then). She and her team were the first to recognize that it was the absence of something, rather than an excess of something else, that caused babies’ lungs to collapse and kill them. That absent something was surfactant, a slippery mix of fat and proteins that coats the breathing tubes of healthy term babies and helps their lungs stay inflated.

Building on her research, a team of Japanese researchers revolutionized the care of premature newborns when they developed a surfactant replacement from cow lungs. In the early 1960s, 15,000 babies a year died from respiratory distress syndrome; by 2002 fewer than 1,000 did.

All of this came too late for my brother, James Bernard Sloan. Born eight weeks early in 1948, he died at two days of age from a lack of surfactant. (I wrote about James’s brief life in my book, Birth Day. It was the mystery of his death, which happened five years before I was born, that first got me interested in caring for sick babies.)

Had he been born twenty-five years later, James Bernard would have been an easy “save,” thanks to Mary Ellen Avery’s work.

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Sister Mary Ellen works a miracle! Cardinals win World Series!!

Sister with Zack

Sister with grief-stricken Cub fan

My aunt, Sister Mary Ellen Sloan, was a health care pioneer, a wonderful human being and a rabid, lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan. She died last month in St. Louis at 84, just as her beloved Cardinals were starting their improbable run to the title.

And how did the Cards do it? By repeatedly coming from behind, including being down

Sister Mary Ellen Sloan (right), 1951

to their last strike–twice!!–in Game 6 last night. Divine intervention? Nah…just Sister working the angles from on high.

Congratulations, Sister! We all miss you!

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