Bjorn Thorbjarnarson, a New York surgeon who famously handled the shah of Iran and Andy Warhol earlier than changing into a central determine in a broadly publicized lawsuit over Warhol’s dying after surgical procedure in 1987, died on Oct. four in Warren, N.J. He was 98.
The dying, at a care facility, was confirmed by his daughter Lisa Enslow.
Dr. Thorbjarnarson was one of many foremost specialists on surgical procedures of the biliary tract — involving the liver, gall bladder and bile ducts — when he was known as to take away Warhol’s contaminated gallbladder in 1987 at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Middle, the place he labored for just about his complete profession. (Ms. Enslow stated he had handled different well-known sufferers as effectively, together with Johnny Carson, the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the artist Ellsworth Kelly.)
Dr. Thorbjarnarson (who pronounced his surname thor-bee-ON-a-son in order that it might be simpler for his American colleagues to grasp) accomplished the operation on Warhol with out incident, and Warhol appeared steady as he recovered in a personal hospital room. However his situation deteriorated in a single day, and he died within the early hours of Feb. 22 at 58. On the time, many newspapers characterised the operation as “routine.”
That April, the New York State Well being Division launched a report concluding that Warhol’s therapy had been insufficient. The Manhattan district lawyer’s workplace quickly mounted an investigation, however it discovered inadequate proof to carry prison fees.
Warhol’s property continued a personal investigation, nonetheless, and in 1991 filed a wrongful-death lawsuit towards the hospital (now generally known as NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Middle) and people concerned in his care. At a trial in State Supreme Courtroom in Manhattan that yr, the property’s legal professionals argued that medical doctors and nurses had uncared for Warhol’s postoperative care and given him an unsafe quantity of intravenous fluids.
“We’re saying that Warhol died from inner drowning,” Steven Hayes, a lawyer for the property, advised The New York Instances in 1991.
Legal professionals for the hospital, in addition to for Dr. Thorbjarnarson and Dr. Denton S. Cox, the attending doctor and Warhol’s longtime physician, contended that Warhol had been effectively sufficient to observe tv and make phone calls from his hospital room as he recovered. An post-mortem gave the reason for dying as cardiac arrhythmia, which the hospital argued was associated to Warhol’s poor well being and never attributable to medical error or negligence.
Glenn Dopf, the medical doctors’ lawyer, stated in his opening assertion on the trial that there was no proof of fluid overload. “It’s bunk, baloney and a fantasy,” he stated.
Dr. Cox stated Warhol’s situation had been precarious when he entered the hospital. He stated that he first recognized a gallstone in Warhol in 1973, however that Warhol had refused to endure surgical procedure due to a worry of hospitals that dated to 1968, when he was shot by the novel feminist Valerie Solanas.
The hospital settled with Warhol’s property a number of weeks after the trial started. Dr. Thorbjarnarson retired in 1989, and maintained to the tip that the hospital’s therapy of Warhol had been correct.
Three a long time after Warhol’s dying, an investigation by Dr. John Ryan, a medical historian and retired surgeon, supported the hospital’s model of occasions.
“This was main, main surgical procedure — not routine — in a really sick individual,” Dr. Ryan advised the artwork critic Blake Gopnik, the writer of a forthcoming biography of Warhol, for a 2017 Instances article concerning the Ryan investigation.
Dr. Ryan discovered that Warhol had a household historical past of gallbladder issues, had been badly ailing for at the very least a month, and had been dehydrated and emaciated earlier than he underwent surgical procedure.
Dr. Thorbjarnarson stated that Warhol was so petrified of the hospital that he pleaded with him to deal with him at house, Mr. Gopnik wrote.
“Dr. Thorbjarnarson refused Warhol’s entreaties and located himself justified three days later, when the sick man was finally on the working desk,” Mr. Gopnik stated, including, “The surgeon discovered a gallbladder filled with gangrene.”
Credit scoreMedical Middle Archives of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell
Dr. Thorbjarnarson had earlier been within the information when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran, journeyed to Manhattan for lymphatic most cancers surgical procedure in October 1979, months after he was deposed within the Iranian revolution.
Dr. Thorbjarnarson led a group of surgeons in eradicating the shah’s gallbladder, a portion of his liver and several other gallstones blocking a bile duct — all below extremely uncommon circumstances.
“Armed guards managed the site visitors to the affected person’s room, and all blinds have been at all times down,” Dr. Thorbjarnarson wrote in a letter in response to “The Shah’s Spleen: Its Influence on Historical past,” an article in The Journal of the American Faculty of Surgeons, in 2010. “Threatening calls have been acquired by nurses attending, however none to me. Outdoors, the hospital was surrounded by a howling mob, managed by barricades, calling for the shah’s head.”
The shah survived the surgical procedure and left New York after some weeks of restoration. However his situation worsened — his spleen was eliminated in Egypt close to the tip of March 1980 — and he died that July.
Bjorn Thorbjarnarson was born on July 9, 1921, the seventh of eight kids of Thorbjorn Thordarson and Gudrun Palsdottir, within the village of Bildudalur within the distant Westfjords area of northwestern Iceland. His father was a health care provider who visited distant sufferers on horseback; his mom was a homemaker.
Bjorn went to a boarding faculty within the metropolis of Akureyri in northern Iceland, to which he traveled by fishing boat or on horseback, his household stated. He graduated from the College of Iceland’s medical faculty in 1947, educated within the Icelandic countryside after which moved to New York.
He started working at New York Hospital in 1948, finding out below Dr. Frank Glenn, a surgeon who handled the shah within the early 1950s. Within the ’50s Dr. Thorbjarnarson served within the Navy for 2 years. In 1955 he married Margaret Brown, a nurse he had met on the hospital. She survives him.
Along with his spouse and his daughter Lisa, he’s survived by three different daughters, Kathryn Thorbjarnarson and Kristin and Gudrun Bjornsdottir; 11 grandchildren; and 20 great-grandchildren. A son, Paul, died in 1996, and one other son, John, a famend professional on crocodilians, died in 2010.
Susan C. Beachy contributed analysis.