Services were held for Dr. David J. Sugarbaker (August 5, 1953 – August 29, 2018) on Saturday September 1, 2018. Dr. Sugarbaker was a man who has been described by many of his co-workers as a man bigger than life. For mesothelioma patients, he was a hero who gave hope to patients when they had been told there was none. For individuals that were fortunate to work with him, he was compassionate, kind, a passionate man with a work ethic that few could match.
To sum up a person’s life in a few words, at a memorial service, in a conversation is not possible. The many brilliant accomplishments he achieved professionally will live on and affect the lives of patients and families for many years to come. His varied interests, his expertise on many subjects, his unfailing enthusiasm to get going, get it done, were legendary.
One of 10 children, son of a surgeon, mother was a nurse, raised in Jefferson City Missouri. He attended Wheaton College, Cornell Medical School, residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, established the Thoracic Division of Surgery at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He founded the International Mesothelioma Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2002. He developed and pioneered treatment options for patients with malignant mesothelioma over the course of decades, researcher, scientist, patient advocate, accomplished successful surgeon. Dr Sugarbaker spent the last four years of his professional life establishing a mesothelioma program at Baylor- St Luke’s Hospital in Houston Texas. A brief limited professional resume of Dr. Sugarbaker’s many accomplishments.
Dr. Sugarbaker’s professional accomplishments are the side of him that was known publicly. His personal accomplishments are just as impressive. He leaves a wife and six children. When talking about their father the perspective of what kind of a father Dr. Sugarbaker was, how involved with his children he was, the impact on their lives was as impressive as his professional accomplishments. His family was the center of his life. The tributes from his children were a reminder of the depth of love he shared for his wife Linda and his children and grandchildren.
Dr. David Sugarbaker was a talented healer who was able to offer hope to people when there was none. In addition to the thousands of patients and families lives that he touched, Dr. Sugarbaker was a mentor to hundreds of thoracic surgeons. On a beautiful late summer day many came back to Boston to pay their respects and to thank him for his expertise and mentorship over the years.
Having had the privilege of working with Dr. Sugarbaker for over 30 years there are many superlatives that we can use to describe the type of man, surgeon, leader he was. To us he was generous, kind, always encouraging, with a great sense of humor. He was a visionary that was able to make an impact on all he touched.
About 10 years ago we accompanied a patient we wanted to get home to his follow-up mesothelioma appointment with Dr. Sugarbaker. We had been asking him frequently when and how we could help get him home. He greeted us by saying, “look who you brought with you today, your travel agents!”
It has been a privilege to have known Dr. David Sugarbaker, to have heard his stories, see him interacting with patients and families, and watched as he inspired the next generation of thoracic surgeons. The mesothelioma community has lost a leader.
Rest in peace Dr. Sugarbaker, you are missed, job well done!
– Lisa and Ellie