The Unger family legacy at Mount Sinai Medical Center became enhanced 60 years ago with a young attending surgeon who was new in town, an airport pickup and three months inside a Houston Thunderbird motel.
In 1958, Dr. Harold Unger had been working at Mount Sinai for three years when word came that the renowned heart surgeon, Dr. Michael DeBakey, was at the airport. Would Unger pop over and pick him up?
Unusual request. But Unger, who died at 89 on April 2, was ambitious and game. He met with DeBakey who had ideas about a brand new procedure — bypasses. He went home and told his wife, Caryl Rose, and their four children about the opportunity to learn from DeBakey, a pioneer in developing an artificial heart.
“So we packed up the whole family in the summer of ’58 and spent three months in the Thunderbird Motel in Houston, Texas, and then they came back to bring in the new instruments to Mount Sinai,” said his son, Dr. Stephen Unger, chairman of the Mount Sinai Department of Surgery. Unger’s grandson Joshua Unger is also a vascular surgeon at the Miami Beach hospital.
“Dr. Harold Unger left an extraordinary legacy at Mount Sinai Medical Center, which included the countless lives that he impacted and saved since he began his surgical practice at Mount Sinai in 1955,” said Mount Sinai President/CEO Steve Sonenreich.
In the early 1970s, Unger became an early innovator of immediate reconstruction of the breast in breast cancer patients. “That’s what they do now but in those days that was very criticized, he had to defend himself before the Dade County Medical Association that he was following proper cancer procedures,” his son said.
Unger was, “a pioneering physician and part of four generations of doctors to practice at Mount Sinai,” who “helped initiate the medical center’s vascular surgery program, a milestone in our hospital’s history,” Sonenreich said.
The Unger legacy of practicing physicians at Mount Sinai began with the late Dr. Jonas Unger, Harold’s father.
Unger was born on Feb. 16, 1926, in New York City, a graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, and an Air Force captain during World War II.
In later years, after retiring, Unger and his wife of 68 years, Caryl, started Imagination Unlimited, a business based on their other love, collecting Georg Jensen silver. They became authorities in collecting Jensen jewelry.
“He was an incredible role model for all of us,” his son said. “He didn’t miss a single holiday family event, or sporting event, play, class activity. He was the second of four generations of physicians and very proud of his grandson. For 60 years he was functioning in Miami. That’s a pretty good legacy on its own.”
In addition to his wife, son and grandson, Unger is survived by his children Wendy and Arthur Unger and Nancy Unger-Fink; eight other grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren; and his sister Marilyn Glucksman. Services were held.
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