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Internationally Regarded U of U Neurologist, Jack H. Petajan, Dies of Cancer


Jack H. Petajan, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology and School of Medicine faculty member for 36 years, died Wednesday, June 22, after a courageous battle against biliary cancer and its complications. He was 75. He remained a productive member of the Department of Neurology until shortly prior to his death.

Born in Evanston, Ill., Petajan graduated in biology from Johns Hopkins University and received his medical degree and doctorate in physiology from the University of Wisconsin Medical School. He served fellowships at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the Brain Research Institute at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. From 1965-69 he worked for the U.S. Public Health Service in Alaska, also serving as a visiting professor of physiology at the University of Alaska.

Petajan came to the University of Utah in 1969 and became professor of neurology in 1973. He was a highly productive and valued clinician, investigator, and teacher throughout his long career. Petajan developed the Clinical Neurophysiology Laboratory and established the Universitys Multiple Sclerosis clinic, which he supervised for many years.

Regarded as a world-class clinician, diagnostician, and researcher, Petajan received more than 20 research grants to study multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and neuromuscular diseases. He served as president of the American Academy of Electrodiagnostic Medicine and was on the board of directors of many organizations, including the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the National Amyotrophic Lateral Foundation. He published extensively in neuromuscular disease, multiple sclerosis, and a variety of other areas of neurology. His many honors included selection as a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology and election to the American Neurological Association.

"Jack was nationally and internationally known for the quality and originality of his work," John E. Greenlee, M.D., Professor and Interim Chair of Neurology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said of his longtime colleague. "He possessed enormous curiosityabout medicine and all of lifeand had a wonderful sense of humor. But more than that, he was an absolutely unselfish and decent man. He brought extraordinary compassion to the care of his patients. In his own clinical practice and in all of his teaching, he emphasized the importance of each patient as an individual human being."

In 2003, the Department of Neurology held a symposium in honor of Petajan and also named its new Electromyography Laboratory for him. The neurology residents also honored Dr. Petajan for his extraordinary teaching ability with a lifetime teaching award.

Petajan possessed a lifelong love of music. He performed with string groups and also sang with the Utah Symphony Choir and Pro Musica Chamber Choir.

He is survived by his wife Mary Eve Sanford, Ph.D., who serves as adjunct faculty with the Department of Psychiatry; his children Eric (Cori), Anne (Dan) Chisholm, Amy (Glenn) McMinn, Bo David, five grandchildren, numerous nieces and nephews; and his sole surviving brother, Albert (Sylvia) Petajan, of Kewaunee, Wis.

A memorial service is planned for 6 p.m. Monday, June 27, at Wasatch Presbyterian Church, 1700 South 1700 East, Salt Lake City.

Donations may be made to the National Jack Petajan Memorial Fund, National MS Society, Utah State Chapter, 2995 S. West Temple, Suite C., Salt Lake City, Utah, 84115.