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Eugene Outerbridge (1934-2023): a top children's doctor

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Eugene W. Outerbridge after his 2015 retirement from neonatal medicine (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

An expert on newborn babies and the former head of paediatrics for the Bermuda Hospitals Board worked during a pioneering time for the speciality of neonatal medicine.

Colleagues said Eugene Outerbridge’s humble nature could hide the magnitude of his contributions to the medical field.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Outerbridge was a “tremendous asset” on the island’s Adverse Events Following Immunisation programme, according to Kim Wilson, the health minister.

The committee was tasked with investigating whether a causal link could be found between vaccination and adverse reactions.

Ms Wilson said he was also a vital member of the Bermuda Advisory Committee on Immunisation.

“A truly patient-centric physician, Dr Outerbridge provided exceptional healthcare, and Bermuda has lost an outstanding doctor,” she said.

“He was always respectful and respected, and without a doubt, a gentleman with a wise gently soul. We will mourn his passing but celebrate his remarkable legacy."

Known to many as “Dr O”, Dr Outerbridge took a colourful route to his medical career after growing up on the family farm in St David’s.

He initially studied botany because of the agricultural background of his father, also named Eugene. He studied geography because it would involve meteorology.

Eugene Outerbridge with his father in the family farm’s lily field (File photograph)

His father then opened a supermarket.

Dr Outerbridge recalled in a 2015 interview with The Royal Gazette: “Honestly, I couldn’t see myself as working in a grocery store for the rest of my life, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

His love of sailing coincided with the 1958 Newport to Bermuda Race, giving him the chance to sail to New York and ponder the direction of his life.

He was the great-grandson of Joseph John Outerbridge, a 19th-century builder of Bermuda clipper ships.

Dr Outerbridge called the voyage “the best five days of my life”.

It led him to choose medicine, although he kept sailing as a back-up career option.

Eugene Outerbridge (File photograph)

While he studied medicine at McGill University in Montreal, he was nudged in the direction of paediatrics by Bill Cooke, another trainee Bermudian doctor who highlighted the island’s lack of a dedicated physician in the field.

The university is affiliated with Montreal Children’s Hospital, where Dr Outerbridge worked alongside Leo Stern on the developing technology of ventilators for newborn babies.

Dr Outerbridge reflected upon retiring that his agricultural experience proved useful “for the very first time” when he called upon his experience of fixing farm machinery in repairing ventilators.

He ran the Montreal hospital’s respirator programme, followed by a ten-year programme monitoring the children who had been on respirators.

He and his wife, Sylvia, spent 35 years in Montreal. The couple had three daughters: Catherine, Barbara and Heather.

Dr Outerbridge was director of the newborn medicine service at Montreal Children’s Hospital for 17 years.

He enjoyed clinical teaching and research and founded the hospital’s neonatal nurse clinician programme.

Former head of paediatrics gave “selflessly” to the community

Ayoola Oyinloye, the Chief Medical Officer, paid tribute to Eugene Outerbridge as “a dedicated, caring paediatrician” who left “an indelible impact on the lives of so many”.

“We will remember him as a kind and compassionate doctor who gladly shared his wealth of information with his colleagues.

“He gave his time, knowledge, and experience selflessly as longstanding member of the Bermuda Advisory Council on Immunisation Practices and the Adverse Events Following Immunisation Committee.

“His soft-spoken voice belies his eagerness, dedication, and persistence at researching information, often with anecdotes from his many years of experience. We will miss him dearly.”

Dr Outerbridge returned to Bermuda in 1998 as chief of paediatrics at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

In 2014 he helped cut the ribbon on KEMH’s new acute care wing and retired the following year.

His daughter, Barbara, said: “Dad touched a lot of lives.

“In recent days since his passing, we are discovering the meaningful gestures he made to other people, the pivotal roles he played in so many lives, over and above his professional career.

“He really did have that ability to quietly be there for people and give them guidance and support.”

Bermuda was “always home” for him, she added.

During Dr Outerbridge’s breaks from his demanding work schedule in Canada, “what he really enjoyed was spending time with his family, preferably on a boat, either on holiday in Bermuda or sailing in the Thousand Islands in Ontario”.

Sylvanus Nawab, his successor as chief of paediatrics at the hospital, told the Gazette: “Dr O was a mentor and a friend for more than 20 years.

“He was a remarkable and humble man who never made mention of all his achievements in neonatology. He as always ready to listen and give his opinion with evidence-based research.”

The two served together on the immunisation advisory committee, which helped guide the island’s vaccination programme against Covid-19.

Dr Nawab added: “Dr O contributed up to his passing on the First 1,000 Days project, and was always a strong proponent and a champion of early childhood education and early intervention programmes to help improve child health.

“He will be truly missed, but his message and ideals will be carried on.”

Richard Fulton, a paediatrician, said he had been honoured to work with “Dr O”.

"However, even after his retirement, Dr O would regularly e-mail with articles of interest.

“When we saw each other intermittently, he was always enthusiastic about paediatrics in Bermuda and he stayed current with all things relating to care of the newborn.”

Dr Fulton said he was “such a humble and approachable person that most who came across his path in Bermuda would not realise what a giant of the neonatal world he was during his career in Montreal”.

“He was head of the world-leading Neonatal Department in McGill when neonatology became its own speciality.

“He, and a very small number of others, were instrumental in developing and advancing neonatal care, not just in Canada but across the world.”

Dr Fulton called him “the Flora Duffy of neonatal medicine”.

“His easy charm and humility often hid one of the greatest medical minds of his generation. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”

• Eugene Worrall Outerbridge, former head of paediatrics for King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, was born on March 3, 1934. He died in May 2023, aged 89

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Published May 24, 2023 at 7:57 am (Updated May 24, 2023 at 7:18 am)

Eugene Outerbridge (1934-2023): a top children's doctor

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