This article originally appeared in Pulse.
If Marshfield Clinic had a Mount Rushmore of Clinic icons, Dean Emanuel, M.D., would be in the running for one of the four faces. In fact, a bust of his likeness already resides in the Lawton Center.
Dr. Emanuel, a longtime Marshfield Clinic cardiologist and world-renowned researcher who sought to cure ailments that afflicted farmers in Wisconsin’s rural communities, died Sunday in Marshfield. He was 92.
He was a constant presence at the Clinic from the time he came to Marshfield in 1958, following his medical school friends at University of Wisconsin-Madison - Drs. George Magnin, Ben Lawton, Russell Lewis and Tom Rice.
“I’ve known Dr. Emanuel since I was a resident at Marshfield Clinic and have held him in high esteem not only for his pioneering patient care and research but also for how he cared about the community he loved and the people who work and live here,” said Marshfield Clinic Health System Executive Director Susan Turney, M.D.
An unusual path to Marshfield
Raised in the Eau Claire County town of Augusta, his medical career got off to a rocky start. The day he graduated from medical school, Dr. Emanuel learned he had tuberculosis. His residency training in surgery was delayed as he became ill and he spent three years in a sanatorium, bed-ridden half the time.
He came back strong, married his wife, Lorrie, and re-started his residency, this time in cardiology. He then served two years in the Army before choosing to establish his practice in Marshfield with his medical school friends.
“If they chose to come here, it must be a good place,” Dr. Emanuel often said.
Over the next 28 years, Dr. Emanuel helped elevate the Clinic to a national leader status in health care. He had a deep interest in respiratory illnesses and farmer’s lung disease in addition to caring for his patients with heart disease.
His work, along with Clinic leaders’ work at the time, led to creation of Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (MCRF) in 1959. Just one year later, he helped MCRF receive its first National Institutes of Health grant – $40,000 to study farmer's lung disease, a form of chronic pneumonia caused by inhaling mold spores found in baled hay, stored grain or silage with a high moisture content.
Former Marshfield Clinic Executive Director and current interim MCRF Executive Director Fritz Wenzel was a longtime collaborator on Dr. Emanuel’s research.
“We crawled through silos, haylofts and paper mills together as we studied these lung diseases and through it all, Dr. Emanuel’s focus was on patients,” Wenzel said. “He always said, ‘We’re doing this to make discoveries that will help patients. We have to make sure farmers can continue farming.’”
Dr. Emanuel’s accomplishments at the Clinic were many:
- Established the cardiac catheterization laboratory to expand diagnostic capabilities in heart care.
- One of the first cardiologists in the U.S. to perform a diagnostic procedure called coronary arteriography.
- Made important contributions in establishing massive pulmonary embolism as a predominantly medical, not surgical disease.
- Pioneer in the Dotter Procedure, a precursor of angioplasty, as a method to provide circulation to diseased limbs before grafting surgery.
- Provided greater understanding of thermophilic fungi, which caused farmer’s lung. He helped develop a lab at the Clinic used worldwide for serological testing of the disease.
- Further determined the differences of farmer’s lung and pulmonary mycotoxicosis, an acute illness resulting from massive inhalation of microbial toxins in organic dusts.
- Identified Maple Bark disease among Wisconsin paper mill workers and created occupational recommendations to prevent the respiratory disorder that were adopted by mills, leading to a precipitous drop of its incidence.
- Authored or co-authored more than 85 published papers in peer review journals.
Dr. Dean Emanuel at his desk.
A love for farmers and their health
He was honored by many health care and agriculture organizations with lifetime achievement awards. Emanuel also was instrumental in creation of the National Farm Medicine Center (NFMC), a program of MCRF.
“While we who knew him will dearly miss him, we can celebrate the peaceful completion of a wonderful, rich and long life,” said NFMC Executive Director Matthew Keifer, M.D., current holder of the Dean Emanuel Endowed Chair.
He was key in starting NFMC’s fundraiser, Auction of Champions, in 1982. The dinner event with live and silent auction packages has now raised nearly $3.3 million to support agribusiness industry health and safety.
Dr. Emanuel’s accomplishments left him with several unofficial titles:
- “A living legend of Marshfield Clinic”
- “The father of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation”
- “The father of the National Farm Medicine Center”
- “The father of agro-medicine”
- A doctor “whose research put Marshfield Clinic on the map”
He received high recognition from the Clinic as well. He received the Heritage Award in 2006, which honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the community in government, civic leadership, education, medicine, law or business. In 1989, he was the second recipient of the Gwen D. Sebold Fellowship for Outstanding Research.
Dr. Emanuel would join past recipients in cheering the accomplishments of the most recent honoree at award ceremonies. He always attended wearing his green blazer, swapped stories of past and current research and shared a hearty handshake and warm smile.
“Dr. Emanuel was a true Clinic giant,” said Teri Wilczek, chief Development officer. “He was instrumental in developing the National Farm Medicine Center, Auction of Champions and was a true champion and supporter of research and education. He was an extremely active member of the Emeritus group, attending events and serving as an ambassador for Marshfield Clinic, right up until the time of his passing. We will miss him dearly.”
To see Dr. Emanuel’s full obituary, click here.
He is survived by his wife, Lorrie, of Marshfield; his children, Julie Emanuel of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Dr. Peter and Carla Emanuel, Little Rock, Arkansas, Lisa and Dean Berres of Marshfield, and Jeff and Christine Emanuel, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; a sister, Judith Young of Hatfield, Wisconsin; as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial service to celebrate his life is tentatively planned for May 14 in Marshfield.