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MARTINUS ‘MARTIN’ SPOOR 1970-2007

He was a surgeon on the cusp of a great career, and a recent convert to the church of hockey

NICHOLAS KÖHLER June 25 2007
THE END

MARTINUS ‘MARTIN’ SPOOR 1970-2007

He was a surgeon on the cusp of a great career, and a recent convert to the church of hockey

NICHOLAS KÖHLER June 25 2007

MARTINUS ‘MARTIN’ SPOOR 1970-2007

THE END

He was a surgeon on the cusp of a great career, and a recent convert to the church of hockey

Mrtinus “Martin” Spoor was born in Media, Pa., on March 14, 1970, to Johan, a Dutch engineer, and Susan, a U.S.-born stay-at-home mother. When Martin was a year old, Johan’s work took the Spoors to the Netherlands, where they lived in a tiny farming town outside Rotterdam. Thijs, another son, arrived a year later. Martin was 7 when the family moved to Calgary, where teachers wondered at the odd way he spoke: English words plugged into Dutch grammar. But it would not be long before he conquered scholarship.

Both of Martin’s grandfathers had been physicians, and at age eight Martin decided that he too would go into medicine. Dressing a Snoopy doll in medical garb, he insisted that the beagle be called “doctor.” Meanwhile, he received conservatory training on the violin and, in the Alberta bush, fell into hiking, camping, skiing and sailing. When a cardiac surgeon addressed his class at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir, a private school outside Calgary, Martin, then 12, narrowed his goals on the heart.

A gifted and diligent student, he worked summers as a counsellor at YMCA Camp Chief Hector in the Rocky Mountains, shepherding youngsters through horsebackriding and canoeing trips. In Kingston, where he took his B.Sc. at Queen’s, Martin spent summers earning money playing violin at Fort Henry, a military fortress turned tourist attraction. An accomplished classical musician, he could also whip up a jig, hamming for audiences by fiddling The Irish Washerwoman, say, behind his back or standing on his head.

While studying medicine at the University of Calgary, he met Susan Torrible. Martin delighted in introducing Susan to the Rockies. They also shared eclectic tastes in music—Martin’s collection saw Mendelssohn alongside Green Day and Fleetwood Mac—and study trips to New Orleans synchronized with that city’s jazz festival. The couple decided to marry during an Algonquin Park canoe trip a year after first meeting; they wed in the Rockies in 1996Martin had meanwhile begun training as a cardiac surgeon at the University of Alberta. Cool and quiet—friends recall a lanky man who never hurried and was rarely on time—he was not the typical heart surgeon. Dr. Arvind Koshal, one of his instructors at the University of Alberta Hospital, did not at first know what to make of him. “Car-

diac surgeons are supposed to be a little aggressive. He was a very sort of shy-looking person.” He soon changed his mind: Martin’s soothing exterior was merely the outward show of his exquisite judgment and cool command of his hands. Such traits made him a promising surgeon with the rare ability to communicate with patients. “Unruffled—that’s what he was,” Koshal says. He also possessed a finely honed, self-deprecating wit, delivered to friends and colleagues

in conspiratorial whispers.

In 2003, Martin began a fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While balancing work, his studies and family life— despite their busy careers (Susan is a geriatrician), they had two daughters and a son—he also discovered a new passion. The hockey enthusiasts among his new colleagues had hoped a Canadian might ratchet up their game. While Martin had never played, he was loath to disappoint. Soon, hockey was his ritual. He took to building backyard ice rinks for his children—family joked he’d soon employ floodlights and Zambonis-and delivered his girls to hockey practice each Saturday. Professionally, Martin’s mentors believed he was on the cusp of a superlative career. He began zipping across the eastern seaboard on runs for donor organs, delivering hearts and lungs to Ann Arbor transplant patients. It was a lot to manage. “I honestly don’t think he slept during the last two years,” says Preeti Malani, a University of Michigan internist. Once, when he failed to keep a study date, Malani called his home: Martin had fallen asleep in bed, one of his children in his arms.

Early on Monday, June 4, Martin received word that a set of lungs had become available near Milwaukee, Wis. He and a transplant team boarded an eight-seat, twin-engine Cessna 550 Citation, and landed in Milwaukee 45 minutes later. As Martin harvested the lungs, surgeons in Ann Arbor prepped the patient, a 50-year-old man whose tobacco habit had damaged his lungs. Within five minutes of taking off for the return journey, at 4:45 p.m., one of the Cessna’s two pilots radioed that the plane was in trouble. Then the Cessna dove into Lake Michigan. There were no survivors. Though word of the crash forced the surgeons in Ann Arbor to suspend the operation, the 50year-old received new lungs two days later. He will likely return h^rnp^jpst a few weeks.

NICHOLAS KÖHLER