Sergei Bogojavlensky, an internationally acclaimed surgeon and anthropologist, died in Anchorage on October 19 at the age of 72. He was born in Helsinki, Finland, on January 27, 1941 to Dr. Victor Bogojavlensky and Professor Marianna von Ungern-Sternberg Bogojavlensky. The family immigrated to America in 1954. His first wife, born Ann Ilona Rahnasto, passed away in 2006 after 41 years of happy marriage. He is survived by wife, Yelena Lobanova, daughter, Kristina Case, sons, Greg and Peter, stepdaughter, Olga Fedorova, grandchildren, Cecelia and Charles Case, son-in-law, Jeff Case and sister, Helena Jones.
He was a modern-day "Renaissance Man," whose rich and colorful life included distinguished achievements in diverse careers - physician, researcher, teacher, inventor, author, linguist, and explorer. He held three degrees from Harvard-a BA (awarded summa cum laude), a Ph.D, and an M.D.- and taught at universities in Europe, Alaska and Massachusetts, including his alma mater.
Dr. Bogojavlensky described his work as "old fashioned doctoring: with skepticism of the latest medical fashions." His medical philosophy was focused on social justice, which included opposition to the misuse of medications pushed by big pharma. He believed that the poor were victimized by a profit-seeking medical system, and that large corporations more and more displaced the physician's direct role in treating people.
Yet this traditional stance did not keep him from a lifetime of innovation and experimentation. An early colleague praises Dr. Bogojavlensky as a pioneer in minimally invasive surgery, while another credits him with bringing laparoscopic procedures to the United States. He performed the first laparoscopic mesh repair of inguinal hernia and presented it in 1989, assisted a general surgeon with the first laparoscopic cholecystectomy in Massachusetts, and was instrumental in bringing a minimally invasive procedure to the United States to treat urinary incontinence. He also invented several procedures and held many medical patents related to his specialties. In Anchorage he had a private practice specializing in gynecology and pelvic surgery and was Medical Director of the Prestige Care Rehabilitation Center. In 2013 he received a humanitarian award as Doctor of the Year for his work with Providence Hospice.
Before Dr. Bogojavlensky entered medical school, he made his mark as an anthropologist. He focused on the native peoples of British Columbia and Alaska, publishing the first book written in King Island Eskimo, Kammaga. His Ph.D. dissertation on the walrus skin boats of Bering Strait Eskimos was based on years he spent living in King Island and on expeditions across the waters between Siberia and Alaska. In later years he applied this knowledge to training army personnel in kayaking and Arctic survival skills. Asked by a colleague why a civilian was employed to teach the military, he replied with a "modest tone [that] it is probably because I am one of the world's experts in polar navigation!'"
The impact of Dr. Bogojavlensky's life and work is seen in the many tributes paid by former students and colleagues. A long time friend, who shared the doctor's love of the outdoors, told this story: "An excellent surgeon with gentle hands, he was one of the most physically powerful men I have ever met." As they forded a river against a strong current, "I felt myself going down. Suddenly this iron fist grabbed me by the back of the neck and literally lifted me onto the gravel bar on the opposite side. I have been forever grateful for that strong arm."
Yelena tells us that "Sergei was a wonderful person and a good family man, very romantic, sensitive, generous and supportive." He liked to spend time reading Russian and English poetry, attending the symphony orchestra or opera, completing home improvement projects, or picking wild mushrooms. He also had a strong aesthetic side, expressed in his woodcarvings and photography.
Fluent in English, Russian, Finnish, Swedish, French, German, Spanish and Bering Strait Inupiaq, he cared about people, embraced the challenge of understanding the richness and complexity of human cultural expression and sought to make a positive contribution to the lives of those he encountered.
A memorial service to celebrate his life will be held at the Providence Cancer Center, 1st Floor Lobby, 3851 Piper St. on Sunday November 17th at 3:00 P.M.
Published in Alaska Dispatch News from Oct. 30 to Oct. 31, 2013