A Life Entwined with Barnes-Jewish Hospital

Though Barnes-Jewish Hospital has deep roots in St. Louis, not many know its history as intimately as Jackie Bergmann. And her family’s personal connection with the hospital and the health care field is one reason she has become a donor to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

In the late 1930s, when she was just 17, Jackie started training for a full-time position as a laboratory technician at Jewish Hospital. There, she met a young thoracic surgeon-in-training, Martin Bergmann, MD.

A mutual friend arranged a blind date for Jackie and Dr. Bergmann. They had a steady courtship while Dr. Bergmann worked long hours to build his career. Eventually, Jackie took matters into her own hands to speed him along.

“He was busy working five or six days a week,” she says. “So, I told him I was going to a frat party in Denver. I think that really worried him! When I got back, he proposed. I always knew it would happen.” 

So much of their lives began at Jewish Hospital, Jackie says.

Dr. Bergmann’s career grew at Jewish Hospital. Jackie later delivered her two sons there. Today, one of those sons is a general surgeon at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital and the other is a psychotherapist practicing in Columbia, South Carolina.

“Martin’s career, my career, our family — everything is entwined with Barnes-Jewish,” she says. “I always knew I would give back.”

After Jackie’s beloved husband, Dr. Bergmann, passed away two years ago at the age of 90, she ensured his legacy will live on through a gift she made in his honor to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Her gift is helping educate the next generation of thoracic surgeons following in Dr. Bergmann’s footsteps, and pays tribute to the institution that was such an integral part of the Bergmanns’ life together.

Fulfilling Careers

Jackie and Dr. Bergmann devoted much of their lives to their careers at Jewish Hospital. Jackie worked for eight years at the Jewish Hospital lab before she decided to stay home and raise their two sons. She remembers her working days fondly.

“It was a tight association at Jewish Hospital,” Jackie says. “Everyone knew everyone. I used to be on call at the lab and stay in the Shoenberg building. That was my life down there. It was really just a wonderful place to work, and we enjoyed it.”

Dr. Bergmann went on to spend his entire 60-year career at the hospital. During that time, he was on the Jewish Hospital board, served as director of the department of cardiothoracic surgery, and was president of the medical staff.

Dr. Bergmann made many contributions to the medical field that brought St. Louis to the forefront of medicine. He was appointed to work with legendary cardiothoracic surgeon Evarts Graham, MD, who started the department of thoracic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Graham was the first surgeon to successfully perform a pneumonectomy, a complete removal of the lung, to treat a type of malignant growth. He was also one of the first physicians to link smoking to lung cancer in laboratory studies.

Working with this trailblazer clearly influenced Dr. Bergmann, who made his own mark on the field of thoracic surgery. Dr. Bergmann was the first surgeon in St. Louis to obtain and use a surgical stapler. Staples, still used in surgery today, give physicians more precision and reduce surgery times. Dr. Bergmann also built the first artificial kidney in St. Louis—the beginnings of dialysis for patients with kidney failure—with Jewish Hospital colleague Burton Shatz, MD.

“Martin was sort of the ultimate physician,” Jackie says. “It never occurred to him not to treat people well or take good care of his patients. Oh, how he worried about his patients. He just loved being a physician.”

Carrying on the Legacy

Dr. Bergmann’s legacy continues in the gift Jackie made in his honor to the cardiothoracic department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital through the Foundation.

The Martin Bergmann, MD, Clinical Research Award Fund helps residents, fellows, and other young faculty at Barnes-Jewish attend research conferences, meetings and symposiums in order to share the results of their research with the medical community.

Jackie’s gift was inspired by Dr. Bergmann’s dedication to a weekly conference held by the department of thoracic surgery where physicians share their knowledge to stay abreast of advancements in the field.

With her donation, she wants to help other cardiothoracic surgeons to learn through collegiality, the way her husband did, to make each physician better at caring for patients and to keep Barnes-Jewish one of the best hospitals.

“You have the best medical care in the world right here,” Jackie says. “Why go anywhere else? You can’t get better than physicians like Dr. Bryan Meyers in the thoracic surgery department.”

Her generosity hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“Mrs. Bergmann’s gift was a very generous act and it supports the preparation and presentation of research reports for our physician trainees at a time when medical finances have never been tighter,” says Bryan Meyers, MD, chief of the section of thoracic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine and the Patrick and Joy Williamson Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery through the Foundation.

He continues: “A gift like this will ensure our future ability to attract and support the best physician trainees, and increase the likelihood that they stay and join the strong legacy of thoracic surgery here at Barnes-Jewish and Washington University.”

Words of Wisdom

Even after Dr. Bergmann passed away, Jackie’s life continues to be connected to Barnes-Jewish Hospital through her gifts to the Foundation, the lifelong friends she made at the hospital, and her son’s career as a physician at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters.

Though Jackie dearly misses Dr. Bergmann, she is grateful for the life they shared. “He was a good person,” she says.

She remembers reading a comic strip quoting Dr. Seuss and has used these words to live by: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

To support cardiothoracic surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, donate online or call 314.286.0600.


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