Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Unique Mind, An Extraordinary Life

"My father received both the Order of Ontario and the Officer level of the Order of Canada; he received the Living Legend Award from the World Society of Cardio-Thoracic Surgeons. He received Member Emeritus status from the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society -- which gave him particular pleasure because it represented recognition by a college of his peers. And my Dad -- who was one of the founders of the Engineering Institute of Canada -- was named a "Fellow" at last year's awards ceremony."
"My Dad's was a life of dedication, purpose and service ... a life of love of family ... of the essential values and ethics of Judaism, like his parents before him ... of guidance to, and assistance for the betterment of the lives of others. My father embodied Tikkun Olan -- "healing the world" -- and my life will be in permanent deficit by virtue of his absence every day."
Floralove Katz, Ottawa
Leon Katz was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2010 by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean. Katz died Jan. 9 at age 90.    Chris Mikula / The Ottawa Citizen
What more fitting tribute to a parent, in honour of his dedication to public duty could a proud daughter give than that which this woman wrote in memory of her father's prodigious contribution to making the world a better place? He certainly made the world a better place closer to home for his four children, as he and his wife, their mother, taught them frugality, hard work and respect, the value of education and love of music, conveyed to them both through example and by instruction.

In the public sphere, her father, Leon Katz, born in Montreal in 1924 to impoverished, hard-working people during the Depression years, took his inspiration from his own parents. At the age of 17, Leon Katz volunteered to serve in the Canadian Army. He was a Canadian officer during the Second World War stationed with the British Army, in the Rhine, with 400 Welsh and Scotsmen under his command as he implemented the Military Government Laws.

Later he attended university to graduate as an electrical engineer, and then took another degree in physiology, covering biology, physics and chemistry to lead him to joining electrical engineering with human physiology, heralding the advent, development and advance of biomedical technology and engineering. The end of the Second World War meant that new technologies were released from wartime service; transistors to radioactive isotopes for medical diagnoses.

He excelled in creating original medical devices, teaching their use in clinical practise. And himself taking part in using them in clinical practise. Pairing the industrial and health-care worlds, he created an original contribution of medical devices aiding a large array of medical specialties by conceiving, designing and hand-crafting devices on which he trained scores of others, leading eventually to Canada's first heart-lung pump used in open heart surgery.

In the early 1950s, Leon Katz was one of two biomedical engineers at the Montreal Neurological Institute who provided famed neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield with instruments, tools and services used in the treatment of brain-related diseases, aiding him in his dramatic discoveries of the human brain. When two doctors at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital in 1953 ventured to explore the potential of I131, the radioactive isotope of iodine in medical applications available from Atomic Energy of Canada's Chalk River reactor, they hired Leon Katz as a physicist.
Radiation physics represented a departure from electrical engineering and neurophysiology, yet Leon Katz organized the first clinical radio-isotope laboratory in the country. He served as founder and director of the Department of Bio-Medical Engineering, Chef, Service de Biophysique; and First Cardio-Pulmonary Bypass Perfusionist at the Institut de Cardiologie, Montreal.

In the 1970s and '80s, Mr. Katz  moved to Ottawa to become the first chief of Diagnostic Devices Division and Evaluation Standards Division, Bureau of Medical Devices in the Health Protection Branch at Health and Welfare Canada. His team there discovered and made correction to the backflow hazard from contaminated evacuated blood collection tubes for the gathering of blood samples.

An article resulting from that finding, published in the distinguished British medical journal The Lancet drew international notice and led to tainted tubes being recalled across Britain and the United States, both countries then following Canada's lead in amending legislation requiring sterilization techniques be implemented to ensure public health standards were upheld.

This amazingly inventive, capable and brilliant mind was finally put to rest when he died in January of 2015 in Ottawa, of mesothelioma and lung cancer, diagnosed only a short time previous to his death at age 90. A man whose life was a tribute to human excellence and altruism.

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