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Margret Oddsdóttir MD (1960-2009)

The Editors of Schwartz's Principles of Surgery wish to dedicate this 9th edition to the memory of Margret Oddsdóttir, the primary author of the “Gallbladder and Bile Ducts” chapter in these last two editions, and a close personal friend of two editors, Dana Andersen and John Hunter.

Dr Oddsdóttir was born in Isafjordur, Iceland, a small fishing village above the Arctic Circle in northern Iceland. She received her undergraduate and medical education at the University of Reykjavik. Because it is a small country (population 300,000, roughly) it is customary for new Icelandic doctors to travel overseas for residency, half going to the larger Scandinavian countries, and half going to North America. Dr Oddsdóttir arrived in New Haven in 1985 with her husband Jon Sigurdsson. While in New Haven, their first son Oddur Jonson was born. Children in Iceland carry their father's first name as their last name, followed by 'son' or 'dottir' depending on the gender of the child. When Oddur was born, a labor and delivery nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital let Margret and Jon know that their child would be permitted to carry the father's last name (Sigurdsson), the mother's last name (Oddsdóttir), or a hyphenated last name, but it was NOT okay to make up a new last name (Jonson). It surprised none of us that knew Margret and Jon that the birth certificate from Yale New Haven read Oddur Jonson.

Margret distinguished herself clinically at Yale, and worked with Elton Cahow and Irv Modlin on a variety of research projects. She was the first of a series of Icelandic residents who received their General Surgery training at Yale, all of whom proved to be outstanding residents and surgeons. She was also the source for a series of Icelandic au pairs, who populated the homes of Yale faculty, and sometimes stayed as spouses in the community. Margret was the lynch-pin of the Yale-Icelandic connection, and many of her colleagues and faculty mentors remained her devoted friends.

In 1992, following residency at Yale, Margret and Jon moved to Emory for two years to work with John Hunter, for her to develop greater proficiency in advanced laparoscopy before returning to Iceland. During this fellowship, the first in laparoscopic surgery in the US, Margret became pregnant with twins, requiring the creation of unique port site locations to accommodate the altered abdominal contour of the pregnant surgeon in the ninth month of pregnancy. Recognizing the additional challenge of anchoring scrub pants above the gravid uterus, Margret was observed on a number of occasions, happily performing laparoscopic surgery with her surgical gown extending to her knees, and her scrub pants lying collapsed around her ankles where they fell somewhere in mid case. Needless to say, all males were shooed from the room before the gown came off. While in Atlanta, Sigurdur (Siggi) and Ragnar were born. Unfortunately, Ragnar suffered birth anoxia and survived only a few weeks.

Margret, Jon, Oddur and Siggi returned to Iceland in 1994, where Margret was hired by Jonas Magnusson the Chief of Surgery at the University of Reykjavik. In Iceland, Margret distinguished herself as an academic surgeon of some stature, becoming Professor and Chief of General Surgery in 2002. In the operating room, Margret was always to the point in her decisions and technique, but also sympathetic and thoughtful. She loved a good cup of coffee, and would pause after a particularly challenging part of a case and say “well, I think it's time for a cup of coffee, don't you?” Upon which, the circulator would bolt from the room, and reappear with freshly brewed, strong coffee, sugar cubes, and straws. Refreshed, Margret would attack the remaining parts of the procedure with an efficiency that was daunting.

She travelled frequently to North American surgical meetings, particularly the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress, Digestive Disease Week, and SAGES, usually accompanied by some or all of her family, and a troupe of OR nurses and students. These were joyous occasions. For those of us who visited Margret in Iceland, we saw a well respected leader of Scandinavian surgery, a woman at home in a rugged landscape of green rocky hills (in summer), glaciated mountains, and great rivers providing habitat for salmon and brown trout. Most importantly we saw a woman of great warmth, of great humor, a mother to Sigurdur and Oddur, and wife to Jon. Sadly, Margret's death in January 2009, of advanced breast cancer, was preceded 18 months before by Jon's death from pancreatic cancer.

Margret was immensely proud of her Viking heritage, and was fond of quoting from the Hávamál, an ancient Viking poem. One quote which she was particularly fond of was “a man who has personal integrity is better placed than one whose life is spent impressing others. Nothing can take such a man's life away, for although death is inescapable, his posthumous reputation will never die.” Oddur and Siggi, we dedicate this book in honor of your mother, a surgeon of international renown, universally loved and respected by those of us lucky enough to know her. Her memory will stay with us, her reputation as a leader in surgery will live on, and her words will be preserved in this most respected textbook of surgery.

John G. Hunter, and Dana K. Andersen on behalf of the Editors of Schwartz's Principles of Surgery, 9th Edition.

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