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Philip Sandblom

Surgeon combining passion for art with medical research

Prominent surgeon and scientist, master administrator, art aficionado, citizen of the world, devoted husband and father; these are but some of the many attributes that have been used to describe Philip Sandblom,(1903-2001) one of the great leaders and spokespersons of the Faculty of Medicine and Lund University.

Philip Sandblom was born of Swedish parents in Chicago, USA, in 1903. Later on the family moved to Sweden via Norway, where his father founded the school of dentistry in Oslo. In Stockholm he was appointed to serve the Swedish royal family. Philip Sandblom obtained his basic education in medicine at the Karolinska Institute as well as specialized training in surgery and pediatric surgery. His doctoral thesis work, which was presented at Karolinska Institute in 1944, was titled "The tensile strength of healing wounds". Before that he had studied the physiology of the gall bladder during a yearlong stay with the well-known physiologist A.C. Ivy at Northwestern University in Chicago. During his subsequent research in Sweden, Philip Sandblom also studied and named other pathological conditions, particularly "hemobilia". In 1950, he was appointed Professor of Surgery at Lund University.

Vice-chancellor at Lund University

In 1957, he accepted the appointment as Rector Magnificus (equivalent to President or Vice-chancellor) at Lund University, which he held until 1968. His appointment occurred during a period of great expansion and organizational changes at the university. He realized early the importance of international collaboration and was a great spokesperson for the university abroad. Indeed, he was responsible for establishing the first exchange agreement with a foreign university, the University of California, which resulted in the exchange of numerous students each year between the two universities. During his period as Rector, great changes also occurred in the political atmosphere among students at universities in Sweden and throughout the world, which led to several demonstrations sometimes with violent outcomes. His words "Of all the conceivable ways to resolve a conflict, violence is the worst" gained him considerable respect and was a clear expression of disappointment since he had instituted several opportunities within the university administration for student co-participation. Philip Sandblom received numerous international recognitions during his time as Rector, but his most cherished degree was that of Honorary Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa at his own university in 1968.

Art and medicine

Art was a central theme in Philip Sandblom's life. It was also the common interest of him and his wife Grace, who was born in New York and met Philip Sandblom in Sweden in 1932. Love at first sight translated into a life-long relationship in which they shared a common passion for art collecting, which yielded work collections by Delacroix, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Braque, among others. Many of these were subsequently donated to the National Museum in Stockholm.

Philip Sandblom combined his passion for art with his great interest in medicine, which was expressed in several articles and books. In his best-known book, "Creativity and Disease: How Illness Affects Literature, Art, and Music", he investigates the connection between the real world and the world of imagination and analyzes the effects of mental disease, drug dependence, and chronic pain of many authors, artists, and musicians. For example, Philip Sandblom reveals that Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was afflicted with a variant of epilepsy, which led to intense periods of anxiety, confusion, and aggression, supposedly exacerbated by absinth intoxication. He writes: "Once, during a delirious phase after threatening to kill his friend Gauguin, he cut off the lobe of his ear and presented it to a prostitute." Van Gogh's condition also led to hypergraphia, compulsive exuberant artistic activity, and, Philip Sandblom writes, "Öit is to this symptom of his disease that we owe an overwhelming number of brilliant paintings, some of them created in a single day!" Philip Sandblom's interest in the relationship between creativity and disease prevailed throughout his life.

Following his retirement, Philip Sandblom continued to practice as physician and scientist in San Diego, USA, and Lausanne, Switzerland, with the latter becoming his permanent home. It was in Lausanne that he passed away at the age 97, completing a life of remarkable achievements both as a medical scientist, teacher, administrator, husband, and father.

Humanities and medicine

The activities at Lund University surrounding the celebration of Philip Sandblom's 100th birthday on October 29, 2003, directly reflect the appreciation that this university feels for one of its greatest leaders. Grace Sandblom, his widow, created a special foundation for a yearly manifestation on this birthday. The theme should be "humanities and medicine" at the Faculty of Medicine.

Text: Hülya Leeb-Lundberg


Portrait Philip Sandblom. Photo.

Philip Sandblom