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Noted VUSM alum Robert Heimburger dies at 97

Jun. 18, 2015, 8:59 AM

Robert F. Heimburger, M.D., a member of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicineclass of 1943, died June 9. He was 97.

Robert F. Heimburger, M.D.

Dr. Heimburger was born and raised in China until age 17. His parents served as medical missionaries in the Shandong province from 1912-1934, as did his grandparents before them. His family returned to the United States in 1934, and he graduated from Drury College in Springfield, Missouri, in 1939.

After graduating from VUSM, Dr. Heimburger completed two years of general surgery residency at Duke University and two years of neurosurgery residency at Chicago Memorial Hospital. He enjoyed a long career in neurosurgery at Indiana University School of Medicine and frequently collaborated with surgeons from Japan, Taiwan, Pakistan and other South Asian countries. He spent the last six years of his career teaching residents at a large teaching hospital in Taipei.

In December 2010, he and his two brothers Irvin (VUSM ’57) and Richard (VUSM ’61), also surgeons, and his sons Doug (VUSM ’78) and Corbett were hosted at an anniversary celebration at Qilu Hospital of Shandong University, where their father, LeRoy F. Heimburger, M.D., had served as a faculty member and hospital director. In 2010 the family established an endowed global health travel scholarship for Vanderbilt students and trainees, in honor of LeRoy Heimburger.

“Graduating from VUSM myself, after my father and his brothers, I am the fourth VUSM graduate in the family. I love that connection with our institution,” said Doug Heimburger, M.D., professor of Medicine and associate director for Education and Training for the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health.

Dr. Robert Heimburger was credited with correcting a congenital myelomeningocele (spina bifida) on musician John Mellencamp when Mellencamp was a newborn. At the time, it was standard practice to wait and operate when the baby was 6 months old, but many babies succumbed to meningitis in the interim.

Dr. Heimburger and Mellencamp were reintroduced in September 2014 in preparation for a benefit concert that Mellencamp will perform in Indianapolis on Aug. 4, as a fundraiser for the Riley Children’s Hospital at Indiana University Medical Center, where Mellencamp’s operation took place in 1951.

Dr. Heimburger is survived by sons Corbett (Carol), Doug (Beth), daughter-in-law Barbara Fletcher, 12 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.

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