By Myron Love


I had gotten to know Nathan over the past few years through my friendship with his wife Eva, a fellow (sister?) author and journalist. I found Nathan to be outgoing and welcoming. Just over a year ago, I took the opportunity to interview him on the occasion of his retirement from head of the Division of Pediatric Surgery at the Children’s Hospital looking back over his distinguished career that had spanned over 50 years.

Nathan Wiseman was totally dedicated to his patients. He was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even when he was on holiday. “I used to have trouble finishing a round of golf (he was an ardent golfer) as I would get calls while on the course," he recounted.

Nathan Wiseman headshot. Supplied photo.

“Even when we were away on holiday, I still received the occasional call. We were in Hawaii once when I got a call from a colleague who wanted me to operate on his daughter. He was prepared to wait until I returned home, and I did the surgery right after we got back.”

Nathan was a fourth generation Winnipegger who grew up in West Kildonan. He noted that he was inspired to pursue a career in medicine by the examples of his own pediatrician Dr. Harry Medovy and respected north end Winnipeg pediatrician Dr. Percy Barsky.

There was also the influence of his peer group. “A lot of my friends were oriented towards medical careers,” he recalled.

Nathan was accepted into the University of Manitoba Faculty of Medicine in 1964 when he was still 19 years old. “I was the youngest of 70 students in my class,” he said.

While enrolled in medicine- during the summers, he had the opportunity to work on a research project with Dr. Colin Ferguson, the city’s first pediatric surgeon, who became the young medical student’s mentor and role model.

Nathan completed his medical degree in 1968 and then proceeded to specialize in pediatric surgery, a journey that took him to Boston Children’s Hospital which is affiliated with Harvard University. He was trained there by world famous pediatric surgeons, even a Nobel Prize winner. On his return to Winnipeg in 1975, he became our city’s first certified pediatric surgeon.

“I had to go to Vancouver to take the certification exam,” he recalled. “Colin Ferguson went with me. He was my examiner and it was the first year the exam was offered.”

Up to that point, he explained, surgery on children was performed by general surgeons who took an interest in children. “But there are many specific surgical conditions for which children require a specialist’s approach.”

Nathan served as head of the Division of Pediatric Surgery at the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg for 14 years. He was an associate professor at the University of Manitoba Medical School who taught medical students and surgical residents, did clinical research, published widely, and served as President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons. In addition, he was an examiner of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and was a governor of the American College of Surgeons.

Over the years, he estimated that he had performed tens of thousands of surgeries of all kinds at the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg and at St. Boniface General Hospital. He said that he loved to operate. He especially enjoyed the intricacies of operating on tiny newborn infants. He also found surgery for malignancies in children challenging and rewarding. He was a gifted surgeon and was also known for his kindness towards his young patients and their parents.

He never forgot a case. He recalled that he often would run into former patients, now adults, and their parents who would come up to him to express their gratitude for surgeries he did years before. “Dr. Wiseman, you saved my life when I was a kid,” they would often declare.

He commented that he appreciated that he had the opportunity to encounter a much wider range of uncommon children’s medical problems than do pediatric surgeons working in larger centres where the workload is more broadly spread.

However, even for a man so enthusiastic about is work that he changed “TGIF”, (thank goodness it’s Friday) to “TGIM”, (Monday), the end of his surgical career was nearing its end.

While he continued to practice longer than most, if not all, of his contemporaries, he retained his skill, vigour and strength (presumably helped by many years on the links).

On Friday, October 7, 2022, a great number of his medical colleagues, nurses, family and friends celebrated him at a retirement party marking the end of almost half century’s full-time service at the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg.

The event was held at the Manitoba Club. “It was a lovely evening,” said the guest of honour. “I had a wonderful time, and it was heartening to see so many colleagues who were my team mates as we looked after children together.”

He delivered a heartfelt speech. “I had so much to say, so many people to thank, most of all my wonderful wife, Eva. I couldn’t have done it without her wholehearted support and understanding through the years.”

“A dear friend of mine,” he continued, “who died too young, once remarked that the longer you continue to work, the less time you have left after you stop working.”

Nathan Wiseman never completely stopped. He continued to go into the hospital from time to time when he was needed and operated part-time in his daughter’s clinic.

(Daughter Dr. Marni Wiseman is a dermatologist in @Winnipeg and son Dr. Sam Wiseman is an endocrine and cancer surgeon in Vancouver.)

With more time on his hands, Nathan was looking forward to more golf and travel with Eva and was considering writing his own lighthearted book provisionally titled “Memoir of a Pediatric Surgical Curmudgeon.”

Despite his busy schedule, Nathan found time in more recent years to curl, study Yiddish, and immersed himself in collecting golf antiques and writing golf poetry. He was also a skilled woodworker. Not only was he an outstanding surgeon, he could fix anything.

Sadly, he did not have much time to enjoy his retirement years. Last December 13, three days before his 79th birthday, he died suddenly. His legacy includes a generation of children whose lives he had saved.

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