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Alfred A. de Lorimier, MD (1931-2009)

Alfred deLorimier B&W Headshot

Alfred A. de Lorimier was the founder of the pediatric surgery program at the University of California, San Francisco, and the first academic pediatric surgeon in Northern California. His legacy in the world of pediatric surgery is profound: dozens of pediatric and fetal surgeons have come out of the division he started alone in 1964, many of them influential leaders in the field today.

Born in 1931 in Washington, D.C., Dr. de Lorimier grew up in San Francisco and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley as a zoology major and champion track and field athlete. An avid outdoorsman, he met his wife, Sandy, one summer during college while they were both working in Yosemite National Park. They married in 1952, the same year that Al, following in the footsteps of his father, a respected Army radiologist, began medical school at UCSF. He quickly discovered his passion for surgery, and after earning his medical degree in 1956, he entered the surgical residency at UCSF, then under the chairmanship of Dr. Leon Goldman.

During his general surgical training, Dr. de Lorimier witnessed an urgent need for specialized surgical care for infants and children. At that time, pediatric patients were operated on by adult surgeons, who had no concept of the unique needs of infants and children. Patients with serious birth defects, tumors, and problems that can often be fixed today rarely survived at that time. Despite what seemed like an obvious need for a specialty in pediatric surgery, the surgical establishment at UCSF fiercely resisted the idea. Determined to pursue a career in pediatric surgery anyway, Dr. de Lorimier went to Ohio State University for two additional years of training under Dr. William Clapworthy, Chief of Surgery at Columbus Children's Hospital.

After a demanding two years of training in Columbus, Dr. de Lorimier knew he wanted to return to the Bay Area and work as an academic pediatric surgeon. UCSF's Department of Surgery had a new chair, Dr. J. Engelbert Dunphy, who was more receptive to the idea of establishing a specialty in pediatric surgery, and in 1964, Dr. de Lorimier was recruited back to the University as an assistant professor. At the same time, his co-trainee in pediatric surgery at Columbus, Dr. Eric Fonkalsrud, returned to the University of California, Los Angeles. The first fellowship-trained pediatric surgeons in the country, Drs. Fonkalsrud and de Lorimier established the specialty of pediatric surgery in California.

Over the next three decades, Dr. de Lorimier devoted himself to developing the specialty of pediatric surgery at UCSF and in Northern California. He built a thriving practice devoted entirely to children, working primarily at UCSF Moffitt-Long and San Francisco General Hospitals, but also covering California Pacific Medical Center and eventually Mt. Zion and Kaiser San Francisco. Until 1978 when he recruited his first partner, Dr. Michael Harrison, Dr. de Lorimier managed his prosperous practice single-handedly, assisted in the office by his wife, Sandy. Impressively, he also managed to obtain funding for basic research in the physiology of diaphragmatic hernia in fetal lambs at a time when most surgeons did not attempt research. In developing the fetal lamb model of congenital diaphragmatic hernia, Dr. de Lorimier laid the foundation Dr. Harrison's groundbreaking work in fetal surgery.

In the operating room, Dr. de Lorimier and his colleagues pioneered numerous advances in the treatment of developmental abnormalities and tumors in infants and children. He and transplant surgeon Dr. Fred Belzer were the first to perform liver transplantation in an infant born without bile ducts as well as kidney transplantation after total nephrectomy for bilateral Wilms' tumor. Dr. de Lorimier also spearheaded clinical research on the management of patients with Wilms' tumor and neuroblastoma, serving on the National Wilms' Tumor Study Group and the Children's Cancer Group for many years.

In 1972, Dr. de Lorimier and a group of other energetic young pediatric surgeons founded the American Pediatric Surgical Association. APSA gave pediatric surgery an official identity and provided a much-needed forum for presenting clinical problems and disseminating research specifically related to pediatric surgery. Dr. de Lorimier served as APSA's first treasurer from 1972-4 and as its 22nd president in 1991-2, and was an associate editor of its Journal of Pediatric Surgery for more than 25 years. He also held leadership positions in a variety of other national professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Surgery and the American Board of Surgery.

With his wife Sandy, Dr. de Lorimier developed a parallel career as a grape grower in Sonoma County in the early 1970s. In 1985 they opened the de Lorimier Winery and operated it until its sale in 2005. Their wines earned numerous top awards in tasting competitions. Another favorite pastime of Dr. de Lorimier's was sailboat racing on San Francisco Bay. Dr. de Lorimier retired from active clinical practice in 1996 and devoted his energies to the winery, but continued to advise pediatric surgeons worldwide via a website.

Locally, Dr. de Lorimier was known as "Uncle Al" to his many colleagues and friends. He had large hands with the gentlest touch, and he touched the hearts and minds of us all.

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