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Axel Ingelman-Sundberg (1910 - 2009): A Tribute

Monday 16 Aug 2010 {{NI.ViewCount}} Views {{NI.ViewCount}} Views

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On 12 October 2009, Axel Ingelman-Sundberg passed away after a minor stroke and pneumonia. He was in his ninety-eighth year. He leaves behind six children and fifteen grandchildren.

In 1976, a the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) meeting in Mexico City, Axel and his colleague and friend, Jack Robertson (USA), assembled nine international colleagues to found the International Urogynecological Association (IUGA). Axel was elected the first president. Professor Ingelman-Sundberg was also instrumental in the early years of ICS, and together with Torsten Sundin organised the 1981 ICS Annual Meeting in Lund, Sweden. Axel was made an honorary member of ICS to thank him for his time and efforts on behalf of ICS over the years.

Axel was born on 22 December 1910, in Uppsala, Sweden. His father was a clergyman and his mother a well-trained doctor. Axel decided early on to study medicine and worked in different parts of Uppsala University as an assistant while studying medicine full-time. In 1939, he was ordered to join the army in the war between Finland and Russia and was transferred to the far north where Sweden borders Finland. Here, he organised a fully equipped military hospital. He was always a good organiser.

In 1947, he married Mirjam Furuhjelm, MD, a gynaecologist born in Helsingfors who specialised in gynaecological endocrinology. A brilliant lady, she later became an honorary professor. She already had two children, and she and Axel started a large family. She died in May 2003. Among the six children, three are professors of medicine, one is a pathologist, and one daughter is a PhD in marine archaeology and history, and also a well-known journalist and writer of historical novels.

Axel was for many years a leading scientist and medical educator, as well as a hard-working clinician. His paper, "Infravesical Nerve Resection for Detrusor Dyssynergia" (Scand J, O & G 38:487, 1959) described partial denervation of the bladder as a new operation for the treatment of urge incontinence. Axel first described the Ingelman-Sundberg technique of repair for stress urinary incontinence using the pubococcygeus muscle. This procedure laid the groundwork for Ulf Ulmsten's (a protégé of Axel) pioneering work on tension-free vaginal tape (TVT) which, along with other minimally invasive mid-urethral slings (MIS,) have revolutionised the treatment of stress urinary incontinence in women.

Axel, together with his wife Mirjam Furuhjelm, Claes Wiirsen, and Lennart Nillson (who was the photographer), published A Child is Born (New York: Delacorte Press, 1966; New York: Dell Publishing, 1969), a textbook which illustrated the nature of life before birth in unprecedented photographs and which served as a practical guide for the expectant mother.

From 1949 to 1979, Axel served as Professor and Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Sabbatsberg Sjukhus, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden. I had the privilege of working with Axel in the early part of 1975 when I was a McLaughlin fellow in the burgeoning new field of Urogynaecology. By that time, Axel was one of the senior gynaecological surgeons in all Scandinavia. He had become the teacher's teacher, the surgeon's surgeon, and the consultant's consultant. When Axel made his "professor's rounds"' his entire department (attending staff, fellows, resident's, students, nurses, etc.) were part of his entourage, everyone eager to learn from the master clinician.

Axel had hoped to attend the 2010 combined ICS-IUGA Meeting in Toronto (23-27 August). He believed in the collaborative efforts between the two societies which would promote better health care for people with incontinence and pelvic floor disorders.

I would like to thank Kerstin Zacharias for helping me with the backgound information for this tribute to Axel.

Harold P. Drutz

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