Dr. Bernie Langer
Dr. Bernie Langer, the self-professed "accidental liver surgeon," is recognized as a global pioneer in liver surgery and in 1985 performed the first liver transplant in Toronto, paving the way for the eventual Ajmera Transplant Centre at UHN. (Photo: Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto)

The relentless pursuit of excellence defined Dr. Bernie Langer, the architect of the modern Canadian Surgeon Scientist. For almost 40 years, the first Jewish physician hired at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) broke barriers, created and elevated surgical standards, and trained the current generation of academic surgeons.

Dr. Langer was instrumental in elevating Toronto General Hospital into a best-in-class organization, here in Canada and indeed in the eyes of the world.

Dr. Langer, UHN's former Chair of the Department of Surgery, passed away this week, peacefully at home and surrounded by his loved ones. He was 89.

Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, Surgeon-in-Chief at UHN, remembers Dr. Langer as a master surgeon who co-founded the liver transplant program at TGH and brought our world-renowned Surgeon Scientist program to reality at UHN, and at the University of Toronto – where he served as Chair of the Department of Surgery from 1982 to 1992.

The self-professed "accidental liver surgeon" is recognized as a global pioneer in liver surgery and in 1985 performed the first liver transplant in Toronto, paving the way for the eventual Ajmera Transplant Centre at UHN, envied the world over for its innovation-driven mindset and deeply talented clinicians.

Dr. Ed Cole, UHN's former Physician-in-Chief, says it was Bernie's realization that the various transplant organs needed to come together to forge the optimal academic transplant program, and his ability to persuade others, which led to the establishment of the multi-organ transplant program at UHN, the precursor to the Ajmera Transplant Centre.

The deep impact of Dr. Langer's professional successes can be felt all over the city he called home. The concept of surgical oncology and his determination to deliver the best in patient care raised the standards of cancer care in Ontario, and influenced other models around the country.

However, some would say that even with all his many accomplishments in the surgical field, his lasting legacy is the creation, in 1983, of the Surgeon-Scientist Training Program at the University of Toronto. It is here that the idea of marrying research values with surgical skills became the standard for an academic surgeon. No longer would Canada's best and brightest have to leave home in order to become ground-breaking surgeon-scientists.

"The Hawk," as he was nicknamed, was recognized as both fearsome and deeply respected. He wanted the best for his trainees, the best for his colleagues, and the very best for his patients. His desire to connect with individual patients, and ensure he was doing what was best for them, drove him personally, and was foundational to his many successes.

"Exceptionally gifted people often leave a clear legacy by which they are defined by future generations," says Dr. Bryce Taylor, former Surgeon-in-Chief at UHN. "Of all Bernie's accomplishments and accolades in recognition of his achievements in academic surgical life, the enduring legacy and lessons he taught us who knew him well, were to live life by example, and to be profoundly devoted to your family.

"His wife, Ryna, his children Jack, Pearl, David and Mike and their families, will have nothing but fond memories of the support and love of this remarkable man."

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