And while Helen Nadel has had a distinguished career in medicine as a pediatric radiologist and nuclear medicine physician – Winnipeg will always be near and dear to her
By BERNIE BELLAN Quite often this newspaper has published articles about former Winnipeggers who have gone on to great careers once they’ve left Winnipeg. If there’s one thing our Jewish community here has been especially proficient at doing, it’s been serving as a springboard for outstanding students to launch successful careers elsewhere.
In some ways, while we may lament that so many of our “best and brightest” have sought to further their careers by leaving Manitoba, almost all those expatriates have something in common, and that’s a deep affection for their hometown – also for the bonds that they formed growing up in Winnipeg.
A few months ago I happened to be in conversation with one of our out-of-town readers: Diane Unrode-Ackley. Diane mentioned that a good friend of hers, Helen Nadel, had recently been elected to serve as the upcoming president of a rarified body: The Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging.
Now, I should also explain that Helen has been an online subscriber to this paper for many years but, like many other online subscribers, I really didn’t have a clue where Helen lived – or what Helen’s background was.
I told Diane that I would definitely want to interview Helen to ask her about her career and what led up to her assuming the presidency of such an important body. But, as you might expect, Helen Nadel is one very busy woman. Try as we might to find a time that would work for both of us to conduct an in-depth interview, it wasn’t until earlier this past month that we were able to speak – face to face so to speak, via Zoom.
What follows are excerpts from that interview, but first here is Helen Nadel’s bio as given on the Stanford University School of Medicine website:
“Dr. Nadel is a dual board -certified Pediatric Radiologist and Nuclear Medicine Physician in both the USA and Canada. She holds certifications from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, The American Board of Radiology (ABR) with certificate of added qualification in Pediatric Radiology and the American Board of Nuclear Medicine (ABNM). Dr. Nadel was an Associate Professor of Radiology at University of British Columbia and had been practicing as a pediatric radiologist and pediatric nuclear medicine physician at British Columbia Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia since 1983 after medical school at University of Manitoba (1977, Winnipeg, Manitoba), internship and residency at University of Toronto (1978-1982) and Pediatric Radiology fellowship (Chief Fellow) at Hospital for Sick Children (1982-1983, Toronto, Ont.) She has been working with the entire breadth of general and hybrid nuclear medicine studies in children in a fully integrated department of Pediatric Radiology and lecturing to promote this field for her entire career. Dr. Nadel currently uses PET/MRI exclusively for PET imaging at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University (LPCH) and co-directs the clinical PET/MRI program at LPCH. Dr. Nadel has been inducted as a Fellow of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (FSNMMI). Dr. Nadel is the 2022-2023 President-Elect of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging.”
And here is the interview:
JP&N: ¨Nice to meet you – finally.”
Nadel: “You too.
JP&N: “We actually met seven years ago at the Jewish Schools Reunion. You’ve had a very illustrious career – and worn many hats, but tell me something about your growing up in Winnipeg.”
Nadel: “I’m a north ender – an only child. My mother came to Winnipeg in 1921 – she was born near Kiev.
“My father came after the war. He had had a military career in the Polish Army. He was captured by the Russians in 1939 and sent to the Gulag. Then when he was repatriated he walked back over the Ural mountains to then fight in the free Polish division of the Russian army.”
JP&N: “Wow!” (Ed. note: That would have been over 2,000 kilometres! At this point I’m including a later part of the interview in which Helen elaborated upon what happened to her father.)
JP&N: “Did you say he had to walk from the Gulag?”
Nadel: “Yes, he walked. It took him two years. He lived in the Ural Mountains, he lived in Uzbekistan.”
JP&N: ¨I just wrote about a book by another doctor – Meyer Kreger. It was the memoir of his mother, Rose. She was also from Poland and survived the war after being sent to Siberia, then Uzbekistan, then Kazakhstan. The stories of how some people were able to survive when others couldn’t endure are endlessly fascinating.”
Nadel: “You know Francie Winograd, don’t you? My father was in the same DP camp as Francie’s mother (Gertrude) after the war. It was near Munich.
“When my father came to Winnipeg, he met the Grosh family – and they had a sister-in-law who was in her thirties and not married. She was introduced to my father and as they say, the rest is history.” (I had to tell Helen that Gerry Posner uses that line in every story he writes.)
“They were married in 1949 and I was born in ’52.”
“I went to Peretz School in Winnipeg and then to Jefferson and Garden City Collegiate. I graduated and did undergrad and med school in Winnipeg. After that‚ I went to a Toronto to do my specialty training in radiology. I’m a radiologist‚ and I have two specialties – actually. three specialties. I’m a radiologist‚ but I sub specialize in pediatric radiology, and I also have a secondary qualification in nuclear medicine, both of which are diagnostic tools.
“One uses what you would think of as conventional X rays and now, ultrasound. MRI is general radiology. Nuclear medicine uses a small amount of radioactive material to also look at how the body works, how it functions. The new thing about nuclear medicine – it’s not so new really, is we can also use it for therapy. So, if you’ve heard of people having thyroid disease, sometimes we give them radioactivity to treat thyroid cancer.
“And now, the big thing‚ of course‚ is we can treat prostate cancer in men; we can treat other cancers as well. But the new kid on the block is treating prostate cancer with radioactive material. We’ve had very good success. But I’m a pediatric person‚ so that’s not actually my purview at the moment.
“But part of the reason I think Diane wanted you to talk to me is I’m about to become the President of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging.”
JP&N: ¨You haven’t assumed the throne yet, have you?”
Nadel: “My presidential year starts in June of this year. But I’ve been in the leadership (of the Society) for three years. I was elected in June 2021.”
JP&N: ¨You’re going to become head of a worldwide organization – right, or is it just American?”
Nadel: “It’s a worldwide organization, based in the US‚ but it is global. We are the largest organization (in the field of nuclear medicine). We have a membership that includes physicians‚ technologists‚ scientists and industry. And it has about 14,000 (members). There are some other organizations (in the field). There are regional – sort of country-based organizations. There are continental-based organizations – like the European Association of Nuclear Medicine – but we’re much bigger.”
JP&N: “You said your specialty is pediatric radiology. Is that right?”
Helen: “Yes‚ ¨I’m a pediatric radiologist.”
JP&N: “So, up to what age would you be treating patients?”
Nadel: Well‚ that’s a good question – usually to age 18. However‚ here at Stanford‚ we have a lot of children that have had diseases as infants‚ and we keep seeing them as they become adults. We still see them. So, it’s a movable barrier. But usually pediatrics is to 18.”
JP&N: ¨I assume you know Ted Lyons.”
Nadel: “I do. Ted was instrumental in bringing ultrasound to Winnipeg and to Canada and as such he came to teach us in our radiology training program at the University of Toronto.”
(At that moment Helen’s phone rang and she had to take a short call. When Helen resumed our Zoom call I noticed a male figure had wandered into the background.)
JP&N: “Who’s that wandering into the background now? Is that your husband?”
Nadel: “Yes, that’s my husband.”
JP&N: “What’s your husband’s name?”
Nadel: “Tevy Goodman. ‘Tevy, say hi to Bernie Bellan‚ the editor of the Jewish Post.’ ”
JP&N: “Are you in Palo Alto? Is that where I’m reaching you now?”
Nadel: “We’re in Palo Alto. We’re in the heart of Silicon Valley. I came to Stanford five years ago. I was recruited here. Actually‚ I was sort of retiring from my job. I had been 35 years at Children’s Hospital – at British Columbia Children’s Hospital in Vancouver – as a pediatric radiologist and the head of their pediatric nuclear medicine department, and I was going to sort of retire – slow down, at least.
“But there was a new hospital at Stanford – a new children’s hospital. I have a lot of friends in the community all over and one of them here convinced me that I should at least look at this job. And you know what it was? It was an opportunity that not many people would get. And, so, instead of retiring‚ I decided to come here – and I’m moving – going ‘uphill’ to go ‘downhill’.”
JP&N: Are most of your duties teaching or clinical? How does it break down?”
Nadel: “I am a clinical physician. I’m in charge of a new division – brand new at this hospital‚ which is called Pediatric Nuclear Medicine. I am also a full service pediatric radiologist. And so I have two hats – two big hats.
“We have some unique equipment here that not many places in the world have – and I’m kind of a leader. I don’t want to blow my own horn‚ but I’m a leader in a field called PET/MRI (Positron Emission Tomography/Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
“Winnipeg has a PET/CT scanner. There are two in Vancouver. There are two down the street from here, where I live. So‚ you know‚ it’s just a different world, it’s a different focus‚ a different way of doing things. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to use these exceptional tools for over 20 years now in my practice, both in Canada and the US. And pediatric lags behind adults in this area – just because we’re smaller. You know, there are fewer kids, but 25% of the world population is pediatric. It will increase as the Boomers get older and die off . Some Third World countries have mostly young people, so it will take a while to build up another Boomer type age group once we’re out of the picture. And disease will get younger in the medical field.”
JP&N: ¨ There are all sorts of scary news reports about cancer, saying it’s increasing – depending on who you talk to. Yesterday‚ I think I saw in Time Magazine, that 50% of people will have cancer in their lifetimes. Someone else told me‚ 70% – but she’s really into conspiracy theories. Can you give a more specific figure or is it hard to do that?”
Nadel: “I don’t have an answer to that. But there are some reports that suggest that the ages at which some people are getting certain diseases are getting younger. There was a big report this week on colon cancer – saying people are getting it younger. It’s being picked up at younger ages. I think that’s in part due to the fact that we have better techniques to pick these diseases up. We are taking more interest in preventative health‚ and that’s okay.
“One of the things that attracted me to Stanford was the physician who recruited me. His name was Sam Gambhir. He was an absolute giant in the field. Unfortunately, he died two years ago of cancer – a very horrible story. You could look him up. He was brilliant. But he basically was on track and his lab -which is still here‚ was on track to promote precision health and preventative health. And precision medicine includes wearable technology, you know.
“One of the last things he wrote about – a great article‚ was about the ‘smart toilet’ And it exists, basically. Your toilet can determine if you have disease by your feces. But nobody knows that’s the case. There’s so much going on in the world. I mean‚ this is beyond me‚ but I’m just saying that there’s a lot of stuff going on.
“So, the statistics are enabling us to pick up more diseases‚ and we’re picking it up earlier. We’re finding ways to treat it. But, have we moved the dial? I’m not sure yet. We don’t know yet. We don’t have enough information yet to determine if we’ve moved the dial in the right direction. I think we will, but I think it’s going to take a little longer to actually prove that.
JP&N: “Okay‚ I want to talk about your new position, but I also want to put a little bit of a ‘haimish’ touch to this. You said you left Winnipeg – when?. Were you in your twenties?”
Nadel: I left Winnipeg after I graduated from med school. I was 24.”
JP&N: “And you went to Toronto for postgraduate?”
Nadel: “Basically, you have to do a year of postgraduate training to get a medical license. I actually did what was called in those days a rotating internship. So I did twelve months of a bunch of everything – all different parts of medicine. I actually thought I would become a family physician and come back to Winnipeg. Then I met my husband. We actually met in Winnipeg. He’s from Vancouver‚ but we met in Winnipeg‚ and he followed me to Toronto. He didn’t want to come back to Winnipeg – put it that way.”
JP&N: “Sounds familiar.”
Nadel: “We thought we would end up in Toronto. And, after 14 years of postgraduate education – which included all my radiology training…I also did specialty training; after a year of internship; after four years of radiology residency and a one year pediatric radiology fellowship – I didn’t have a job! I needed a job. And I got offered to do much like what I’m doing here: start up a new program at a brand new hospital in Vancouver – British Columbia Children’s Hospital. I was 30 years old.
¨And my husband being from Vancouver‚ that seemed like a reasonable thing to do for what we thought would be five years. We ended up having two daughters in those first five years – and we never left.”
JP&N: “Can I ask: What did your husband do?”
Nadel: “My husband is a retired professional engineer – a civil engineer and, in an interesting twist‚ he helped build some of the nuclear generating stations in Ontario. He worked in construction development and then in power group development. He worked for Ontario Hydro for all the years that we were in Ontario. And then he basically retired.”
“He took care of me and the kids and it just worked out that way. Coming back to Vancouver turned out to be a good thing and a bad thing when we came back. We came for my job because I did not have another job, and it looked like he would get a similar job in civil engineering, but that had dried up in the 80s (when nuclear plants stopped being built).
“And, our first child was premature But, you know what? The decision to have one parent at home was the right decision. And so it was him. I was young; he was a great father. He is a great father. So he was a forerunner then. And he was not Mr. Mom. He was everything. He is everything still. I couldn’t have done anything I did – and still do if I didn’t have that kind of support.”
JP&N: “So, as far as your Winnipeg roots go‚ I know that you’re friends with Diane Unrode-Ackley. Do you still have many friends from that time?”
Nadel: “Well Diane is like a sister me. I really had a close circle of three. Mindy (Unrode, Diane’s younger sister, who sadly died in 1986) was my best friend. We met when we were seven or eight years old. We were friends forever. She moved to Toronto as well after she got divorced.
“My second close friend was Cheryl Schwartz, who’s now (Dr.) Cheryl Minuk – also in Toronto.
JP&N: “She’s a subscriber, too. I talk to her occasionally.”
Nadel: And my other close friend was (Madame Justice) Robyn (Moglove) Diamond (who also passed away – in 2018). The four of us (Helen, Mindy, Cheryl, and Robyn) were best friends.
JP&N: “What street did you grow up on?”
Nadel: “I grew up on Scotia Street‚ between Smithfield and McAdam. My cousins are the Grosh family. I should mention that my family were also long time shul goers at Rosh Pina.”
JP&N: I just heard from Joel (Grosh). His mother (Tesse) just passed and we had her obituary in the paper. This is really a little Jewish geography we’re doing.”
Nadel: “Totally. So, Tesse’s husband, Abe, and I were first cousins. Our mothers were sisters‚ but I’m almost the same age as Joel; he’s one year older than me. So, even though I’m one generation older than him we grew up together. We grew up in a compound almost. Joel’s family lived next door to us until they built their really nice house on Smithfield. His grandparents lived next door to him – half a block away
“What happened is two brothers – named Grosh, married two sisters my aunts – whose name was Chmelnitsky – and they lived across the street from each other. In a real twist of fate, someone else you know, Osher (Archie) Kraut, is also my cousin.
“They’re cousins on my father’s side – which is how my father came to Winnipeg after the war. Archie’s parents actually brought him to Winnipeg. He was only planning to pass through Winnipeg on his way to Israel. He’d been in a DP camp for four years. He had had typhus; he wasn’t that well. And then he came to Winnipeg. He wasn’t even 40.”
JP&N: “By the way, we’re only a year apart in age. Well, let’s turn to the position you’re about to assume. What will be your actual title?”
Nadel: “I’ll be President of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. When you’re first elected‚ you are vice-president elect‚ then you become president elect‚ then you become president, and then you become past president. What happens is you’re part of the leadership, basically. So, as president elect you travel together with the president. You deal with all of the sort of day to day problems that such an organization might have. We deal with the US federal government, for the most part. We deal with international governments related to the supply of radiopharmaceuticals that we use in our medical careers. And we also have international organizations. We deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which I’ve been involved with for 20 years as well, on a consultancy basis.
“How did I get to where I am in this organization? Well‚ as a pediatric radiologist and nuclear medicine physician‚ I was always interested in promoting the interests of children. They’re different than adults. There’s a saying that children are not small adults, and that’s true. And so, in some things, kids do get left behind. They don’t get some of the drugs. They don’t get some of the treatments that are available, some of the diagnostic things that you could do, some things you don’t want to do, etc.
“But it’s important to promote pediatrics. I’ve been a strong proponent of educating people about my field, my particular area of interest. I met people along the way who were interested in how I do things. I was interested in the organization that I belong to. I’m promoting the fact that there are new techniques that we can utilize. I’ve just been vocal. I teach, I give a lot of lectures, I’m not shy. Well‚ I guess you could say I’m an ‘introverted extrovert.’
“I got known in my field as a speaker, somebody who was interesting. I worked as a solo practitioner in my area – in Vancouver, even here (at Stanford). It’s usually never more than one person that does pediatric nuclear medicine in any hospital department.
“I suppose the reason I got to where I got was I volunteered to get involved in different parts of the organization, but I wasn’t aspiring to do this (become president of the nuclear medicine association). But again, much like coming to Stanford, somebody asked if I would consider doing it. My reaction was, given that I was new at Stanford and that I’m trying to grow a brand new program, (the administrators at Stanford) would say, ‘Are you crazy? We’re not giving you that time.’
“But, instead, they were delighted. But when you say you’re willing to put your name forward for election, you actually have to run an election. I ran an election. I sent out 10,000 emails.”
JP&N: “Were there other candidates running?”
Nadel: “There was another candidate that ran, but I won the election in June 2021. I’m going to be the seventy-first president of this organization. I’ll also be the fifth woman, the fifth pediatric person, and the third Canadian.”
JP&N: “Are you an American citizen now, too (in addition to being a Canadian citizen?”
Nadel: “No, no, I am a Canadian citizen. I do have a green card. My husband and I both have green cards, but we’ll always be Canadian.”
JP&N: “Okay, Helen, this has been terrific. It was very nice meeting you – finally. This was a long time in coming. It was hard to pin you down, but I’m glad we did this.
Nadel: “Okay, I hate talking about myself, but thanks for this. It was great.”
Following our interview I asked Helen to provide some information about her two daughters. Here’s what she wrote:
“My husband and I have two daughters. Frani is a cantor, having graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in NYC as a cantor in the Conservative movement. She is currently completing a fellowship in Vancouver to be a chaplain. She has Master Degrees in Sacred Music and Jewish Education and also teaches in the Jewish education system in Vancouver.
“Daniella has a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Special Education from Hunter College in NYC. She is currently teaching kindergarten in a charter school in Brooklyn, also completing a second Masters degree in Speech Therapy.”
Mahler the Jew: A futuristic fantasy (Part II)