Dr. Lloyd Bartlett

Dr. Lloyd Bartlett

Acknowledgements: Doctors Manitoba dedicates this article to Dr. Lloyd Bartlett and his family.

Cadillac Caregiver:

Inventor, doctor, health advocate, and family man

From seat belt and helmet laws to anti-smoking legislation centenarian physician Dr. Lloyd Bartlett saved countless lives.

Dr. Lloyd Bartlett has a daily ritual.

Every evening before bedtime, he sits on a stool in the corner of his bedroom. He cracks open a well- worn copy of Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy, which sits on a special stand by his closet, and he studies at least one of the detailed illustrations, which are drawn from photographic negatives.

Studying is something he’s  done for decades, and decades, and decades. At 101-years-old, the retired physician, surgeon, and former president of the Manitoba Medical Association (now Doctors Manitoba) certainly doesn’t have anything to prove.

“It’s important to me to keep up on this,” he says.

Even though he retired in July 2018, the centenarian hasn’t stopped thinking about how he can help people live healthier lives. It has driven him for his entire adult life. His professional life has been devoted to learning, creating, and problem solving.

His home office is filled with medical books and journals, alongside framed congratulations from the Queen, the Prime Minister, and the Governor General to mark his 100th birthday in 2017. A small, decorative water fountain, burbles away as Dr. Bartlett speaks about his life. His personal life has been rich and full. He and his late wife Desta (she died in 2017 at age 99) raised five children together. Today he has nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren. His professional life spanned more than seven decades and is punctuated with a list of accomplishments, usually tied to inventions or solutions for patient care that he came up with.

Descended from a family of inventors, that passion for problem solving started when he was a small  boy in his family’s foundry in Stratford, Ontario. He was always building and inventing things including a door bell made using a car horn, button and battery inside a glass jar, and a hand-powered chariot from old tires, wagon wheels and a motorcycle side car. He was going to be a farmer, like his grandfather, but decided to give medical school a try. Med school at the University of Western Ontario was the right fit.

He interned at the Ottawa Civic Hospital where he met his future wife Desta, a paediatric nurse who was an enormous help in his future projects. Early in his medical career, he became the sole family doctor and surgeon in Favourable Lake, Ontario, near Island Lake, Manitoba. In the remote town, Dr. Bartlett learned basic dentistry from the local dentist. When the dentist moved away,  Dr.  Bartlett stepped in and took over dentistry. Dr. Bartlett also taught himself to do refractions so that patients didn’t have to travel to the city for eyeglasses. Tuberculous was  a significant public health problem in Favourable Lake. To that end, Dr. Bartlett was instrumental in having a separate log-cabin hospital built to tend to tuberculous patients in isolation.

As a long-serving physician, Dr. Bartlett has served thousands of patients, and saved countless lives with his diagnostic ability, surgical skill, and solid medical and lifestyle advice.

As an inventor and health advocate Dr. Bartlett has also had made remarkable contributions and had wide- spread influence on how we all live today.

Cases in point: At age 24 he invented and used the first cannulated intravenous needle, now used world- wide. He proved that the cause of wound dehiscence was by sutures tied too tightly. Tight sutures would give way as the patient strained, thereby impairing healing. Dr. Bartlett and his father invented a tension meter instrument that tied the sutures at a measured tension. With the instrument, he performed more than 1,000, consecutive procedures without a single wound dehiscence.

With the late, Dr. D. W. Penner, Dr. Bartlett was also instrumental in getting seat belt and helmet legislation passed in Manitoba. They also campaigned against drinking and driving.

As the chair of the Canadian Medical Association’s committee on tobacco legislation, his presentation  to a parliamentary committee included a poster with real images of smoking-damaged anatomy. That work helped drive anti-smoking legislation and the use of graphic pictures in the poster, called “The World’s Biggest Rip Off,” ultimately became the precursor for the modern tobacco packaging with  its stark images of cancerous tumours and other smoking related effects and illnesses.

“He was way, way ahead of his time,” says Dr. Ian Goldstine, a colleague and former fellow MMA board member.

“He really lead the charge for anti- smoking, anti-meat, and the importance of good diet and exercise,” Dr. Goldstine says.

Dr. Bartlett wasn’t afraid to buck the system, particularly when it came to patient health and good sense, says Dr. Goldstine, the medical advisor to the pain management unit at the Workers Compensation Board.

For example, Dr. Bartlett got into a tussle with the College of Physicians and Surgeons after telling patients not to get prescriptions filled at pharmacies that sold cigarettes, says Dr. Goldstine.

Telling patients where or where not to fill prescriptions was a no-no but Dr. Bartlett felt it was important to make this stand against pharmacies that were selling harmful tobacco products.

“He was championing anti-smoking in that way too,” Dr. Goldstine says.

Dr. Bartlett, along with his late-wife Desta, practised what he preached.

He has been a vegetarian for more than 50 years. Dr. Bartlett gave up meat, except for salmon, after studying cholesterol research, and comparative dental anatomy of the animal kingdom, concluding that humans are not meat eaters. He has also been dedicated to exercise.

Dr. Bartlett would always listen to medical audio tapes while exercising, thereby giving both body and mind a workout, adds Dr. Goldstine.

When the college suggested elderly physicians get audited to make sure their skills and knowledge were up-to-snuff, Dr. Bartlett stepped right up.

“When the word got out, he was the first in line. It showed how much he valued continuing education and staying current,” Dr. Goldstine says. “He was always, always staying up to date.” 

“We talk about life-long learning. Well, he exemplified that,” Dr. Goldstine says.

Dr. Bartlett also stepped up in other ways too. As a Board member of the Manitoba Medical Association, and then its president in 1989/90, Dr. Bartlett was also a fierce advocate for physicians.

“He always spoke what he believed to be the truth to power,” says Dr. Ian Sutherland, a former board member and colleague.

Not only was he passionate about what he believed was right, he had always done his homework and his beliefs were solidly rooted in evidence-based reason, says Dr. Sutherland. Dr. Bartlett took this posture long before “evidence based” decision making in medicine was in vogue, adds Dr. Sutherland.

His arguments for the benefit of one investigation, treatment, or surgical technique over another were presented judiciously to colleagues, and if you were in disagreement with him you had better be equally well informed and prepared, says Dr. Sutherland.

“It was very difficult to have a conversation with him about a surgical procedure. He would say, ‘the evidence is this, or this is what the literature shows,’ and you wouldn’t win if you hadn’t done your homework. He’s just a very determined and competent individual,” says Dr. Sutherland.

Dr. Bartlett wasn’t rigid, however, adds Dr. Walter Hoeppner, a former board member and retired physician in Winkler, Manitoba. Dr. Hoeppner sat on the executive committee with Dr. Bartlett in the 1980s. At the time the association was negotiating a contract for physicians with the government. Then, the government fell and negotiations were at risk. Dr. Bartlett was insistent that negotiations halt. The three other committee members wanted to push forward. After a vote of three against one, Dr. Bartlett told his colleagues that he wanted the vote to be unanimous so he switched sides, aligned himself with his colleagues and promised to vigorously defend the committee’s position to the board the following day as a united front.

“He was a team player. And when it came down to the crunch, he supported the team. That’s when I learned what a team player was like in an association,” says Dr. Hoeppner.

“He had a remarkable ability to drop any ego,” Dr. Hoeppner says.

Dr. Bartlett, who wore natty bow ties every day for decades, also had and great relationships with his patients. Many years ago, Dr. Sutherland’s teenage son stepped on a needle buried in a carpet. With the needle broken off and lodged in the boy’s foot, Dr. Bartlett was the doctor for the job.

“He had a good reputation as a well- informed surgeon. He operated on my son and after a lot of searching, he found the fragment. Scott has had no problems since. He earned a tremendous amount of respect from his patients,” says Dr. Sutherland.

“He emphasized the importance of doing things well and doing things right. He set a high standard and great example for us all.”

That great example was also on full display in the operating room, adds Dr. Les Ullyot, who assisted Dr. Bartlett in surgery a few times.

“I remember his meticulousness and his organizational skills. He was present for the whole process from setting up the OR to laying out the table, to finishing the procedure to ushering the patient to the recovery room,” Dr. Ullyot says.

That respect was also earned from the medical students Dr. Bartlett taught. Dr. Hoeppner was one of Dr. Bartlett’s medical students back in the day.  In a demonstration on pre-surgery hand-washing techniques, Dr.  Bartlett gave blindfolded students a special formula that blackened their hands.

The students then washed their hands, removed their blind folds and discovered how much of the black remained depending on their technique.

Decades later, Dr. Hoeppner, who is now retired, still remembers the impact of that simple lesson.

Dr. Bartlett’s patients also speak highly of him.

Up until Dr. Bartlett’s retirement in summer 2018, Wanda and Ted Lismer were his patients for sixty years. Their five children were Dr. Bartlett’s patients too. She says they were “honoured, grateful, and thankful,” to be under his care for so many years.

“He gave us Cadillac care. And honesty, that’s almost an understatement,” says Wanda, who is in her mid 80s.

He was “a good and most kind friend, counsellor and exemplar,” Wanda says.

He was there for us any time, available day or night, she adds.

When her son was a toddler, he went limp like a rag doll. So she called Dr. Bartlett, who then called the emergency room and lined up a doctor to meet them, thereby clearing a path for the family to be helped more efficiently.

“There are infinite number of incidents where you could call, and just a calm word from him would make such a difference,“ Wanda says.

“He would always have time for you, but he also didn’t waste time,” adds Wanda. His advice would also be based on the most current medical and research information, she says.

Dr. Bartlett would do house calls too.

Decades ago, when the young son of patient Marcel Bonneau came down with a bad fever and other concerning symptoms that pointed to meningitis, Dr. Bartlett showed up at their doorstep to care for the boy.

But more than urgent care and house calls, Dr. Bartlett gave much sage advice over the years to Bonneau. The 96-year-old credits his long, healthy life, in part to Dr. Bartlett’s wisdom and care.

“He was professional, he was interested in you as a person, and he was up to date,” says Bonneau, who had been a patient of Dr. Bartlett’s since the mid 1950s.

Dr. Bartlett was a strong advocate for vegetarianism, exercise, and non-smoking. Bonneau, a retired university professor, followed much of Dr. Bartlett’s advice.

“He was a font of knowledge,” Bonneau says.

“He’s a very caring man,” adds Terry Clark, who had been a patient of Dr. Bartlett’s for about 50 years.

“I miss his candor. I miss his curiosity. He provided firm, consistent care for me for 50 years. He listened. He questioned and he was interested in his patients,” says Clark, a business owner. “He was interested in the whole patient,” says Clark.

Clark personally credits Dr. Bartlett for recognizing the health implications of high cholesterol levels and then treating him with statins before the practice was widely regarded.

“He’s sharp as a tack,” Clark adds.

Professionally, Dr. Bartlett was a standout. His personal life was also rich and rewarding. He and his wife Desta were devoted parents to their five children. The family’s cottage was a hub of fun and family time during the summer months. The couple loved nature and shared that with their children.

“They were just wonderful days, outside all day, swimming, rowing, building forts, playing games, singing around the camp fire,” says daughter Ellen Tye. “Time alone with my Dad that I enjoyed was when he took me on trips to go rock hunting or when I got to ride in the Sunbeam car with him on Saturday mornings to the hospitals to ‘do rounds,” Ellen says.

Daughter Lorna Kopelow says her father’s devotion and dedication to his career was matched by his devotion and dedication to his family and wife. While his career was serious business, Dr. Bartlett loved and still loves telling jokes and riddles. He carved wooden spinning tops for children. As a couple, the Bartlett’s hosted many “fabulous dinners for family and friends,” and both loved music, says Lorna.

“They always helped us with whatever we were pursuing, throughout our lives. They were both eloquent and entertaining story-tellers,” adds Lorna.

Son Rob Bartlett also credits his father and his mother for teaching him strong values that have carried him through life.

“Hard work, organization, respect, appreciation for the good things you have been given. Make the most of what you have. Family. Patience. Take pride in what you do and do the best you can. Make time for the things and the people you love. Between them there was much love and wisdom,” Rob says.

Their mom Desta was an invaluable contributor to her husband, Dr. Bartlett’s professional successes, the children all agree.

“My Mom was a huge contributor to all his accomplishments, also working in their office, supporting him in all his endeavours, in addition to raising a family and running a household so capably and cheerfully,” daughter Ellen says.

“They have worked incredibly hard, doing what they loved and were so good at, they helped many people from all walks of life and left the world a better place,” she adds.

Back in Dr. Bartlett’s River Heights home, the retired physician remains devoted to his studies, his health, and his family. He has slowed down but still active in mind and body. In anticipation of this profile, he hand-wrote a dozen pages detailing memorable moments in his life. It’s quite a feat to remember one’s life, particularly a 101-year-long history.

He is also still firmly planted in problem solving mode. For example, he is interested in the possible role of glycation in causing slowly progressive diseases like dementia. He believes cooking food at high temperature with little water may be the cause of dementia. Dr. Bartlett thinks that high-heat and little water may change the shape and function of protein molecules like it does in diabetes. He also has several inventions and procedures ready for deployment.

And this, like everything Dr. Bartlett has tackled in his 70-plus years as a physician, inventor, and health advocate, and family man, is all about helping people live better, healthier and happier lives.

“Every time I see something, I think, ‘there’s got to be a better way of doing it.’”

High Achievements

Milestones in Dr. Bartlett’s professional life
    • Administered the first BCG in Western Canada
    • His greatest invention: Invented and used the first cannulated intravenous needle
    • Curated the Pathology Museum in Winnipeg, introducing new methods of display
    • Based on air cultures and skin sterilization experiments, he revised the Winnipeg General Hospital’s operating rooms and skin preparations, markedly reducing infections
    • Invented an operation for the cure of pancreatic fistula, which is still the standard
    • Was the first director of post-graduate surgery at the University of Manitoba and developed a training program rated as one of the best in Canada
    • Learned surgical skills from master surgeon, Dr. F.A.B. Sheppard
    • Developed isotonic tube feeding formulae which became the prototype for commercial products
    • Developed the first plan for the systematic treatment of burns in Winnipeg
    • Invented a gastric suction device
    • Invented the problem-oriented medical record and the impact medical record ‘Exam-O- Gram’
    • Created the awards committee and a series of annual awards for the Manitoba Medical Association, now a highlight of the annual meeting
    • Created a medical office whose unique design won many awards
    • Produced many information hand outs for patients before the age of the Internet. Many of these pamphlets are still relevant, including Food Facts for advice on cancer prevention

– Source: Dr. Lloyd Bartlett