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Remembering a Founder: Ake Grenvik, MD, PhD, MCCM

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9/9/2021

Ake Grenvik, MD, PhD, MCCM, a founding member of the Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) and one of the earliest pioneers of critical care, died on September 5, 2021. He was 92.

He will be remembered as a visionary. “Ake was instrumental in establishing how critical care medicine is taught, how intensive care professionals work together, and how patients are treated today in intensive care units around the world,” said SCCM President Greg S. Martin, MD, MSc, FCCM.

A native of Sweden, Dr. Grenvik graduated from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. Following residencies in general and cardiothoracic surgery in Sweden, he spent three years in clinical research studying the effects of mechanical ventilation on respiration, circulation, and metabolism, which led to a doctorate degree at Uppsala University in 1966. He then came to the United States to train in anesthesiology and critical care medicine. He became professor of anesthesiology, founding and heading the Division of Critical Care at the University of Pittsburgh and working with SCCM founder Peter Safar, MD, MCCM. He remained a leading faculty member and mentor at the University of Pittsburgh until he retired in 2011. He was beloved by colleagues and students there.

In February 1970, Ake was an anesthesiologist working at the University of Pittsburgh when he joined about 30 other physicians in Los Angeles “to combine thoughts, plans, and experiences which would help bring order to the new field of ‘critical care medicine.’” That meeting laid the groundwork for what would become the Society of Critical Care Medicine, and Dr. Grenvik remained dedicated throughout his life to the organization’s mission and vision.
 
In that same year, Drs. Grenvik and Safar helped draft the first guidelines for critical care units. At the time, such standards were not common; physician practice was viewed as sovereign and sacred, and unlikely to be “guided.” The idea of a multiprofessional, multidisciplinary approach to care, guided by standards, was a novel approach led by visionaries such as Dr. Grenvik.

“For all his accomplishments as a legend and giant in the field, Ake will be remembered for his pioneering vision to rigorously train the entire professional critical care team to work together and deliver the highest-quality, humanistic, and patient- and family-centered care,” said Dr. Martin.

Ake Grenvik, MD, PhD, MCCM, (center) pictured in 2012 being inducted into the American College of Critical Care Medicine as a Master of Critical Care Medicine.

Dr. Grenvik was the first SCCM Membership Committee chair and went on to serve as its seventh president from 1977 to 1978. He presided over SCCM’s first freestanding educational meeting, delivering a presidential address focused on creating a critical care specialty, an effort he successfully championed.
 
In 2000, SCCM awarded Dr. Grenvik its Lifetime Achievement Award. For his sustained and global contributions to the field, Dr. Grenvik was inducted into the 2012 inaugural class of Masters of Critical Care Medicine by the American College of Critical Care Medicine.


Ake is preceded in death by his wife, Inger, who was also considered a stalwart and loyal volunteer of SCCM. The couple are survived by three children: Anders, Monica, and Stefan. Their son Christer died in 1989 of a brain tumor while he was an anesthesiology resident. The couple subsequently founded the SCCM Grenvik Family Award for Ethics to honor their son’s deep interest in ethics and end-of-life care.

Ake had been living in Houston with his daughter Monica and her husband, Mike McGinley. He enjoyed swimming, getting up early, and taking walks.

Look for a memoriam to be published in upcoming issues of Critical Care Medicine and Critical Connections. Until then, as the critical care community mourns this loss, the Society invites you to honor his contributions through your personal remembrances. Share your memories of Dr. Grenvik below.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family has asked that donations be made to the Grenvik Family Award for Ethics Fund. Donations can be made by contacting SCCM Customer Service at +1 847 827-6888 or via www.sccm.org/donate. When submitting a donation online, select “Grenvik Family Award for Ethics” from the dropdown menu. The Grenvik family will be notified of all donations, and donors will receive a letter acknowledging their gift.


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Posted: 9/9/2021 | 13 comments


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Dolly
I have always felt so priviledged and fortunate to have known “AKE” as a critical care fellow.
He taught us so much more than the science of our field
9/14/2021 12:25:09 PM

Jeff Rothschild
Ake was a wonderful mentor, role model and mensch. As a CCM fellow in 81-82, I like most fellows before and after me were pleasantly surprised that the 3:30AM walk rounds with Ake was more than an urban myth. It was a small reward and a soothing comfort for working through the night in the SICU. Directly and indirectly, through his research and training of fellows, Ake has impacted hundreds of thousands (if not more) lives of ICU patients and their families. Ake was a guiding light for a career in critical care.
9/13/2021 8:17:05 AM

Keith Stein MD
Ake was such a wonderful person, mentor, visionary and leader. I so enjoyed working alongside him in Pittsburgh and throughout my career, upon which his impact was indelible.
9/13/2021 7:42:54 AM

Richard PRAGER MD FCCP FCCM
All of us Intensivists, especially the ones from the late 70's knew Ake Grenvik, and will always
remember him as a true GURU in Intensive Care, and give our condolences to his family.
A great one for ever!!
9/11/2021 5:15:51 PM

Deborah Cook
Dr. Grenvik was a gentleman and scholar - ahead of his time in sharing his lens of ethics while considering all that goes on - visible and invisible - at the bedside.
9/10/2021 3:02:47 PM

Robert
I heard Dr. Grenvik speak on several occasions at Congresses and was impressed with his knowledge and engagement with various groups. I never knew him personally, however the memory that most stands out in my mind about him was his dedication to his wife, Inger. I vividly remember Dr. Grenvik, the noted critical care physician, pushing his wife in her wheelchair to restaurants and other social events at the end of the day. This was the surest sign of a great man and an enduring "teaching point" for all of us.
9/10/2021 2:53:15 PM

Perren
I had the privilege and honor of training as a fellow with Ake in 1994-95. What I remember most are his humanity, innovation, sense of humor, and dedication to family and friends. He inspired us all. Godspeed, Ake!
9/10/2021 10:11:47 AM

Amy
As a young Respiratory Therapist at Presby in the 80's, my peers and I were amazed by his knowledge, his teaching and his very early morning rounds AFTER his "swimming" that he did every morning in the SICU. I feel blessed to have known him!
9/10/2021 7:43:32 AM

Charles
Charles Hinds Emeritus Professor of Intensive Care Medicine, London, UK
I visited Ake's ICU in 1979 as a 30 year old trainee and Travelling Fellow of the UK Intensive Care Society. He welcomed me to, and involved me in, his rounds and generously spent the time to show me his unit and discuss his approach to organising a critical care service. He inspired me to continue in my chosen career and to advocate for Intensive Care to become a recognised specialty in the UK. I will always be grateful for his kind advice and support when I was about to take the plunge and embark on a lifetime in the specialty.
9/10/2021 4:25:28 AM

Jesús Villar
Ake (Oki, as I called him) was a wonderful person. It was a heroe in Spain for being instrumental in the creation of Critical Care Medicine as a new specialty. He was in my ICU when I was starting my Residency in CCM and we continued being friends since then. He wrote my supporting letter for being a FCCM, and for returning from Canada as a Director of research at the Canary Islands. I still keep his letters describing every year his amazing trips around the world with his lovely wife Inger, specially the letter celebrating their Diamond wedding Anniversary in 2012. I will miss him.
9/10/2021 4:19:25 AM

Matt E. Cove MD
I met Ake as a critical care fellow after he'd retired from clinical practice, but learned so much from our chats in the offices at Pittsburgh. I was inspired and honoured that he'd take time to chat with us fellows, and was particularly amazed at how many ICU folks he knew out here in Singapore.
9/9/2021 11:45:00 PM

Ann E. Thompson, MD, MCCM
Ake, along with Peter Safar and Peter Winter, recruited me to Pittsburgh and was forever a warm, supportive, and inspiring mentor. In addition to his shaping the field for all of us, and his passion for patient care, fellow education, and teamwork, I will always appreciate his many reminders that we are among the most fortunate in the world, privileged to have nearly always the resources necessary to provide our patients the care they need.
9/9/2021 8:24:58 PM

Alan H. Morris, MD
Ake will be missed not only for his leadership but also for his. counsel and advice characteristically delivered with respect and with grace.
9/9/2021 8:05:04 PM