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In Memoriam

David Sohmer Svahn

David Sohmer Svahn

DOYLESTOWN, PA—David Sohmer Svahn, retired physician and educator, has died. He was 84 years old. David lived most recently in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, having moved from Cooperstown, New York in 2009 where he had lived for 37 years. David is survived by his wife of nearly 60 years, Karin Elmqvist Svahn; his three children, Anna and Jennifer (husband Jeff Nicastro), both of New York City, and Jonathan (wife Tiffany Svahn) of Orinda, California. David also leaves four beloved grandchildren, Jack and Ben of New York City and Sarah and Annika of California. They call him “Pops” or “Poppi.” David is also survived by his younger brother, C. Peter Svahn, and family. David took immense pride in the personal and professional success of all his children and of his wife’s creative skills.

David was born in Englewood, New Jersey on March 28,1939 and was raised in West Nyack, New York, the son of David Holmfrid Svahn, a building contractor, and Erna Sohmer Svahn, a school-nurse teacher. He attended local public schools, obtained a BS in Quantitative Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1960) and received his MD from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (1965). During medical school, he spent a year in Lund, Sweden doing research in physiology and getting to know his father’s family. There he met his wife. Only in later years did they discover that their fathers had grown up merely a few miles apart on beautiful Lake Lyngnern on Sweden’s west coast.

Dr. Svahn did his residency training at Columbia affiliates in Cooperstown (Bassett Hospital), and New York City (Presbyterian Hospital and Harlem Hospital). He had come to Bassett as a medical student. David’s experience then and during his later residency years confirmed his desire to live, practice, and teach in that community, where a genuine interest in patients as people has always been a core characteristic. After completing three years with the United States Army in Germany, he returned to Bassett in 1972 as an attending physician in internal medicine. David relished the challenge of general medicine and developed a special interest in the management of hypertension, a subject about which he lectured frequently. He was an inaugural member of the American Society of Hypertension. Dr. Svahn’s interest led to an active role in the regional and state American Heart Association organizations and he served as president for the former.  

Medical education was an abiding interest, leading to a career-long involvement with Bassett’s continuing medical education program. He believed that cooperation with other facilities benefited the entire community; David arranged the annual Fox-Bassett Teaching Days in Oneonta for 15 years and he also, for 25 years, brought Bassett experts to the annual Bassett Day at the Central New York Academy of Medicine in Utica, New York.

His pride in Bassett as a teaching hospital was considerable; a high point of his career was the receipt of the Golden Apple award granted each year by the medical residents. Following retirement from practice in 1999, he continued at Bassett supervising residents in primary care. Dr. Svahn developed a new interest in the Medical Humanities, speaking frequently about the need in a highly technical age to maintain awareness of the importance of the humanistic side of medicine. He served as executive editor for a book of medical student writings, “Let Me Listen to Your Heart,” which received considerable attention from students, seasoned practitioners, and laypersons alike. Interestingly, this project led to an invitation to serve on a Committee on Professionalism for the American College of Surgeons. His maternal grandfather, a surgeon, would have been proud. Ever the teacher, he was pleased to accept a part-time role as teacher of nurse-practitioner students at Binghamton University. This second career, from which he retired in 2010, was very meaningful as his mother, grandmother and mother-in-law had been nurses.  

Outside medicine, he maintained a number of interests, singing for years with the Catskill Choral Society and the Bucks County Choral Society. He was also a founding member of the Glimmerglass Opera chorus. He acted a number of roles with the Leatherstocking Theatre Company. David read widely, especially history, and family history in particular. David even wrote a book about W. W. Lord, an Episcopal priest who served in Vicksburg, Mississippi during the famous Civil War siege in 1863 and who later served at Christ Church in Cooperstown. David was co-editor of a revised Svahn family history. He believed in the power and importance of narrative and adhered to William Osler’s dictum that the good physician must always be a reader, the better to understand his patients’ stories. Dr. Svahn concurred with the advice, “Listen to the patient, he is trying to tell you what’s wrong with him.”

David Svahn was a member of Christ Church, Cooperstown, where, for many years, he served as unofficial historian of that remarkable 200-year-old parish and, more recently, David was a parishioner of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Doylestown.

He often said he had been a lucky man.

Memorial Services will be held at Christ Church, 46 River Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326 on September 30 at 11 a.m.; reception to follow at The Fenimore House, back terrace.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in David’s honor to Friends of Bassett (607-547-3928 or 1 Atwell Road, Cooperstown, NY 13326).

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