Where there is no vision, the people perish. —Proverbs 29:18
Dr Peter Hoogewerf, born in 1928 in Ranikhet, India, was a graduate in 1954 of King’s College Medical School in London, England, longstanding member of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, and practitioner in Kenya, the United Kingdom, Alberta, and British Columbia. He was a gentle and eloquent man of imagination, wit, vision, and above all, action.
It is fitting that a eulogy to mark the passing of Peter Hoogewerf should appear in this theme issue of the BC Medical Journal dedicated to influenza and pandemic preparedness. Peter Hoogewerf was himself a devotee of the science and mystery of influenza. He recognized the threat it posed to his own patients as well as public health. Thirty years ago, in 1977, Dr Peter Hoogewerf, together with his friend and colleague, Dr Mike Tarrant in Alberta, responded to this threat in a meaningful and lasting way.
In 1976, while Peter Hoogewerf was a family physician practising in Abbotsford, news arose that the same H1N1 serotype of influenza that had caused the devastating pandemic of 1918 had re-emerged, after a complete absence of nearly 20 years. This reappearance sparked fears of another pandemic. While public health experts debated whether to launch an immunization campaign, Drs Hoogewerf and Tarrant recognized the essential role of the general practitioner in gauging the threat within Western Canada. With calm clarity and remarkable foresight, they set to work to establish an early warning system, the first of its kind in North America, to detect the possible arrival of the virus and to track its movement, spread, and impact within their respective provinces. Calling his clinical colleagues to aid, Peter established a circuit of sentinel physicians across BC to act as watchtowers—reporting weekly the proportion of medical visits due to influenza-like illness and contributing a steady supply of respiratory specimens to identify the virus and to study its evolution.
Perhaps yet more visionary than having established the physician network was Peter’s tenacity in maintaining it long after the initial, and as it turns out, unsubstantiated, fears of a 1977 pandemic had subsided. Such was his conviction about the annual impact of influenza, the likelihood that another pandemic would occur, and the critical role of the front-line physician in responding to emerging disease threats, that Peter Hoogewerf continued to guide and recruit physicians each year to the sentinel program, as did Mike Tarrant in his province, for another 30 years. At last in 1995, their example inspired the development of an ongoing sentinel network nationally. It remained a matter of pride to Peter that BC physicians continued to participate in the sentinel surveillance network at the highest per capita rate. That is primarily because Peter personally contacted and welcomed or wheedled physicians into participation, up until and including the last influenza season before his death last year, at the age of 78.
I have had the great honor, and immense pleasure, of being first mentored by and then teaming with Peter Hoogewerf, and his daughter Louise, for nearly a decade on sentinel influenza surveillance in BC. What I will remember most about Peter in this role is his passion, his persistence, and ultimately his proof that inspired ideas and determination can be infectious, even epidemic, to others. This to me will remain Dr Peter Hoogewerf’s lasting legacy.
—Danuta M. Skowronski, MD
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