In Memoriam: L. Donald Bridenbaugh, MD 1923–2018

Oct 29, 2018, 21:10 PM by Michael F. Mulroy, MD

Dr. L. Donald Bridenbaugh

On August 1, 2018, the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine (ASRA) lost the last of our founding fathers with the passing of Dr. L. Donald Bridenbaugh. Despite eschewing attention, Don was universally recognized as the backbone of the Virginia Mason Department of Anesthesiology during his 36 years of practice there. He was also seen as a leading light in ASRA from its inception.

LDB, as he was known in Mason Clinic’s anesthesiology department, will always be remembered for his presence in the operating room and his continuous unremitting support of the department’s residents and members. 

Don was born in Sioux City, IA, on July 9, 1923, and did undergraduate training at the University of Nebraska and the University of North Carolina before completing medical school at Nebraska. He interned at King County Hospital in Seattle in 1947 and continued on as an anesthesia resident there, with training interrupted by the U.S. Navy for two years. After completion of residency in 1952, he joined Dr. Daniel C. Moore as the only other physician anesthesiologist at the Mason Clinic until the arrival of his brother Phillip in 1965.

Dr. Bridenbaugh with Dr. Daniel Moore in the early days at Virginia Mason.

Although many remember Dr. Moore as the very public “rock star” of regional block anesthesia for his generation, Don became the rock of the department itself, providing constant high-quality care and supportive teaching of residents and junior staff. It is not by accident that the annual faculty teaching award is named in his honor. In addition to regional techniques, his special interest was outpatient anesthesia. He was instrumental in opening the short stay surgery unit at Virginia Mason and was medical director of the outpatient surgery unit from 1983–1988.

He participated in virtually all of the departmental research projects, with his name on 97 publications, promoting the safety and use of regional techniques through the middle of the past century. Many of those projects provided the basis for the introduction and Food and Drug Administration approval of the local anesthetics bupivacaine and etidocaine. But typical of Don, he was rarely first author, preferring to be the support person, mentor, and role model for junior faculty.

His ability to selflessly work with others led to many organizational leadership roles. In addition to serving as the chief of the anesthesiology department from 1977–1983, he was active outside the institution. Don was president of the Washington State Society of Anesthesiologists two years after starting practice, and he represented the state in the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) House of Delegates for three terms. In ASA itself, he served on the Board of Directors from 1975–1978. He chaired multiple committees for the organization, including the Annual Refresher Course, Operating Room Utilization, Continuing Education, Self-Examination, and the subcommittee on Standards for Ambulatory Surgical Facilities. His ability to work with just about anyone led him to serve as the liaison representative from ASA to the American College of Surgeons from 1970–1979, as well as an advisor to the American Society of Post-Anesthesia Nurses.

Don was the consummate team player before the term became popular, a role enhanced by his frequent quotation of his favorite doggerel verse about the man “who died defending his right of way.” Although he did have his moments of “strong feelings,” as easily recognized by his clenched jaw (verging on masseter spasm!), Don taught us all to see the other side of a dispute and to live to negotiate another day.

Presidents and Proteges: Dr. Bridenbaugh with Drs. Denise Wedel and Manbir Batra at the ASRA 40th Anniversary celebration.

Thus, when Alon P. Winnie, MD, floated the vision of resurrecting the American Society of Regional Anesthesia in 1975, it was natural and appropriate that Don represented Mason Clinic’s anesthesiology department in the group of founding fathers. He served as the first vice president from 1975–1980 then as president from 1980–1982. During that tenure, he chaired the original bylaws committee in 1976 and the annual meeting in 1979. I can attest that he was personally responsible for getting many of his junior faculty and fellows involved in the Society, including many who have served as president of the Society. He was recognized with the ASRA Distinguished Service Award in 1989, the year after his retirement from Virginia Mason.

But LDB, as he was known in Mason Clinic’s anesthesiology department, will always be remembered for his presence in the operating room and his continuous unremitting support of the department’s residents and members. In addition to the many pointers he shared with me and others about regional techniques, I will always remember that when I arrived in Seattle as a junior faculty in 1977, he sent his two sons to my house to help unload my U-Haul. True to his heritage, they did it cheerfully!

Family was always important. Don, or “Bud” as he was known to them, eagerly looked forward to retiring and enjoying life with his wife and six children—and his steelhead fishing. In his customarily self-deprecating way, he frequently celebrated the coming of retirement with the quote, “Thank God you’re letting me step down while you still think I’m competent!” Sadly, his wife of 41 years, Nancy, passed away three years after he retired. But he was blessed to meet Glenndia, and their life together has been a source of joy to both since their marriage in 1995. They have travelled extensively but always enjoyed their retirement house on the Olympic Peninsula, overlooking the straits of Juan de Fuca and near to the steelhead runs.

Don is survived and fondly remembered by Glenndia, his sister Margaret, brother Phil, six children, and two stepchildren—as well as countless residents, fellows, and faculty who had the privilege of working with him over the years. He will be missed.


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