Ake Grenvik, MD, PhD, MCCM | 1929-2021

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UPDATE: Funeral arrangements in Pittsburgh

The Grenvik family will receive friends on Saturday, September 25, 2021, from 10 am until noon at Beinhauer Funeral Home, 2828 Washington Road, McMurray, PA 15317. A graveside service will follow immediately at Forest Lawn Gardens Cemetery.

All guests are invited to attend a reception later in the day from 4 to 7 pm at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh - Meadow Lands, 340 Racetrack Road, Washington, PA 15301.

Ake Grenvik official obituary
PIttsburgh Post-Gazette obituary

It is with sadness that we report the passing of Ake Grenvik, MD, one of Critical Care Medicine’s giants. According to his family, Ake passed away peacefully at his home in Houston, Texas during the night on September 5, 2021. He was 92 years of age.

The name Ake Grenvik has been synonymous with critical care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh for 43 years. Ake was the founding chief of the Division of Critical Care Medicine and after stepping down from that post in 1996 remained a leading faculty member and mentor until he retired in 2011. Highlights of his academic life included a founding member of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, editor of the Textbook of Critical Care Medicine, and the author of over 300 peer-reviewed publications. His dedication to both the practice of critical care medicine and training of clinicians in this new specialty were his signature.

He was a wonderful combination of highly objective, thoughtful and decisive when it came to patient care. Those who worked under him recall his arrival at the hospital early in the morning and performing rounds from 3 am to 4 am each day. Under his tutelage, more than 400 Pitt/UPMC physicians received advanced education in critical care medicine. Indeed, his program of training—the Multidisciplinary Critical Care Training Program that was founded by Peter Safar in 1962—is both the oldest and largest critical care training program in the world. In the role of leader of this unique clinical fellowship training program, Ake was known as a hard taskmaster, demanding honesty, professionalism and diligence from his trainees to the same level he held himself.

"Ake was one of a special small group of visionaries who paved the way for the rest of us in critical care. We are profoundly grateful," said Ann Thompson, vice dean at the University School of Medicine and professor of Critical Care Medicine and Pediatrics. "His legacy inspires us to pursue perfection in clinical care, education, and research in our own system and internationally."

Ake Grenvik is perhaps best known for his work on defining such terms as ‘brain dead’ and ‘critical care triage.’ He was part of the national group that developed the concept of ‘letting die’ and ‘terminal weaning’ to our lexicon of intensive care treatments. Just as he knew best than most how to sustain life, he also understood when it was time to let go.

“A North Star for critical care: as a doctor, a scientist, a leader, and a human being, he was truly one of the most remarkable people I have ever met,” said Derek Angus, MD, MPH, who is chair of the Department of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and executive vice president and chief innovation officer at UPMC. “I will be forever grateful to Ake for all of his mentorship and support. His life was an inspiration for us all.”

Ann Thompson added: "Ake was enormously important in my decision to come to Pittsburgh at the very beginning of my career. He always supported the growth of pediatric critical care closely tied to critical care as a whole, but with special characteristics and needs of its own. He and  Peter Safar provided steady support and counsel for clinical, educational, and research development at Children’s Hospital. But while he cared passionately about local issues, often, following his many international trips, he would remind us of our great fortune of working in such a resource-rich environment with such potential to assure excellent care for all who needed it and urge us to be grateful."

Born in Sweden in 1929, Ake Grenvik received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in 1956. He completed residencies in general and thoracic surgery, including two years as a research fellow. Unlike other surgical residents, he spent most of his time in anesthesia at the University of Uppsala, focusing on the hemodynamic effects of mechanical ventilation that resulted in a number of important clinical studies on cardiopulmonary interactions in the critically ill. His studies linked the fragmented laboratory and clinical observations from the past into a cohesive picture of heart-lung interactions that forms the basis for what is known today. That work also prepared him to understand and guide the care of critically ill patients.

He was recruited by Peter Safar, MD to Pittsburgh to join the anesthesiology and critical care training program in 1968, acting as both an anesthesiology resident and head of the newly formed intensive care unit, the second one of its kind in the world. The first ICU was created three years earlier in Baltimore by Peter Safar before he moved to Pittsburgh to found the Department of Anesthesiology of which Critical Care Medicine became a division. Ake received many academic awards during his productive and long career, including Distinguished Professorship award from the University of Pittsburgh and a member of the inaugural class to receive the Master of Critical Care Medicine designation from the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

Ake’s wife Inger Grenvik passed in 2015 and his son Christer died early in 1989. Ake is survived by his children Anders, Monica and Stefan, their spouses and his many grandchildren and a few great grandchildren.

“We are running out of people to thank for giving us the wonderful specialty of Critical Care Medicine,” said Michael R. Pinsky, MD, vice chair emeritus in the Department of Critical Care Medicine.


Friends and Colleagues Remember Ake

To submit a remembrance, please email it to CCMcomm [at] upmc.edu. Don't forget to include your name and professional details.


As others have noted and I can confirm, Ake started his day well before first light. Someone remarked that he was still "on Swedish time," but in fact he had all the time zones covered, as his thinking and impact were truly global. We are all privileged to have worked with him and learned so much from him.

Glenn C. Murray, MD
Former Fellow and Assistant Professor
Critical Care Medcine
University of Pittsburgh

We would like to remember Dr. Ake Grenvik, an old friend of Chinese critical care physicians. The sad news of his passing was a mix of shock and grief for us. We lost a mentor of critical care medicine and old friend who loved Chinese culture and devoted himself to advancing critical care medicine in China.

I worked at UPMC from 2006 to 2014, initially as CRISMA fellow and then faculty. I still remember the day I met him in the hallway of the department office soon after I arrived in Pittsburgh. I introduced myself as an anesthesia-trained intensivist in China who came to UPMC for better training because there are many giants in critical care like him at UPMC. Ake warmly welcomed me into his office. I learned that he moved from Sweden to the US, transitioned from cardiothoracic surgery to critical care medicine and established the first critical care medicine fellowship program in the world. He then introduced me to the Wortson Simulation Training Center and I was deeply impressed. I thought this simulation education should be adopted by our Chinese intensivists. Thus, I suggested the Chinese Society of Critical Care Medicine (CSCCM) invite him to China for a lecture.

In 2007, Ake and his wife attended the Annual CSCCM Congress in Chengdu. There, he introduced the history of critical care medicine in the US and the development of simulation education, which left a memorable impression on our Chinese colleagues and helped them learn more about how critical medicine was practiced at UPMC. The host for his visit, Dr Youzhong An, Professor of Critical Care Medicine from Peking University, invited him to visit Beijing. He demonstrated enthusiasm for Chinese culture during this visit. Since then, Ake and Dr. An have become life-time friends. They set up the joint Peking U-UPMC critical care forum, in which faculty from UPMC were invited to lecture at Peking U every year. Ake also actively invited Chinese intensivists to UPMC for further education.

I also benefited from Ake’s assistance. I wanted to pursue further clinical fellowship training after I passed USMLE. Ake recommended a program which gave me a chance to practice in the US and understand the difference in clinical practice between China and US. After I was hired back in China in 2015, I immediately established a similar training program in Wuhan. In 2018, we set up the unified critical care fellowship program all over the country accredited by the Ministry of Education and the Chinese Society of Physicians. These efforts paid off during the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan. Dr An and I were elected as “elite doctors” in 2020 by the Chinese Society of Physicians due to our contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After retirement, Dr. Grenvik continued to pay attention to the development of critical care medicine in China. We regularly exchanged emails. At every annual SCCM meeting, we met in person to chat, and he introduced us to American colleagues. He enthusiastically facilitated exchange and cooperation between the Chinese and American critical care medicine communities.

Dr. Grenvik had an indomitable spirit and a tenacious will due to his service in the Air Force, and he loved skydiving. He was one of the founders of critical care medicine training in the US. At every annual SCCM meeting, the awards and lectures were named after him along with Dr. Safar, Dr. Weil, and Dr. Shoemaker. He was also a mentor and friend to all Chinese intensivists. We will always remember his enthusiasm and selflessness. The Chinese people are sentimental, so we forever appreciate and commemorate those who have helped us. Therefore, we, on behalf of Dr An and other leaders of CSCCM, we express our condolences to Dr. Grenvik’s family, UPMC colleagues, and the American critical care medicine community. May Dr. Ake Grenvik rest in peace.

Zhiyong Peng, MD, PhD, FCCM
Professor & Chair of Critical Care Medicine, Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University
Director of Critical Care Center, School of Medicine Wuhan University
Director of Hubei Critical Care Research Center
Wuhan, China

I completed my Fellowship in 1994. Dr Grenvik was then Chair of the Department. My memories go back to the 4:30am beep, with a summon to his office for a debrief session. This happened to each CCM fellow on call. Here he would ask about patients/cases seen thru the night. His questions were what the problem was, what we did and why, and then go thru a differential. His final question was: how much sleep did you get? He really got to know his Fellows. A special trait in a Chairman, Educator and Leader. He indeed passed his vision of Multidisciplinary Critical Care. He is asleep awaiting the call of the Lifegiver.

Edwin J Rao MD, FCCP
Dept of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine
Indiana University, La Fayette

Ake has been a mentor to so many of us. Many of us would fondly remember our (early) morning meeting with him as a fellow, after our night duties. He was always appreciative of our efforts while being a constructive critique. A true fatherly teacher who was affectionate, firm and taught life beyond critical care. His legendary life is to be celebrated. My thoughts and prayers are with his immediate family and his global critical care family.

Nagarajan Ramakrishnan MD, MMM, FACP, FCCP, FCCM, FAASM
Director, Critical Care Services, Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, India
Tele-Intensivist & Medical Director, Hicuity Health, USA

I was a critical care fellow in Pittsburgh in 1991-1993. During that time, I lost my father and I remember receiving a condolence letter from Ake where he asked me if there was anything he could do to support me. I was so impressed about the humanity of this outstanding individual who took the time to contact a simple critical care fellow. How can I forget our everyday meeting at 5:30 AM after each night call where I went in his office and he asked me “How was your night?” I was speaking with Jean-Gilles Guimond, who also did his fellowship in UPMC and worked there several years, and he said to me “Un grand homme nous a quitté.” I would translate it as “a living legend left us.” He is really the model of exceptional humanity and science that we all have recognized.

André Y. Denault M.D., Ph.D., FRCPC, ABIM-CCM, FASE, FCCS
Professeur titulaire, Faculté de médecine de l’Université de Montréal
Directeur du programme de fellowship en échographie ciblée
Département d'anesthésiologie et de médecine de la douleur
Département de pharmacologie et de physiologie
Division des soins intensifs, département de chirurgie cardiaque
Institut de Cardiologie de Montréal

When I was interviewing for my fellowship in 1985, I was told by a current fellow that If Ake liked you, at the end of the day he would dictate your acceptance letter with you seated in his office. Sure enough this was the case. I intended to take a year off between Chief Resident and Fellowship and begin in 1986. A few weeks after committing to UPMC, Ake called me at home asking if there was any way I would consider coming to Pittsburgh in 1985. I had an unexpected change of plans and agreed to start a year earlier than originally planned. Ake was one of the most sincere and caring individuals I have ever worked with. He shaped the Critical Care profession and all of the fellows in his program. I owe so much of my professional career to him that I do not have the words to express how grateful I am for his kindness and mentorship, both professional and personal. Ake Grenvik was a legend in the field of Critical Care and will be missed but never forgotten.

Harvey Medical Director S Reich, MD FACP FCCP FFSMB
Director, Critical Care Medicine
Medical Director, Respiratory Care
Rutland Regional Medical Center
Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine
The Robert Larner College of Medicine
University of Vermont
Respiratory Care Unit
The Pines of Rutland

I still remember the excitement to have an interview with you, the legend of critical care medicine, before joining the UPMC Critical Care Medicine. Despite your solid accomplishment, you were extraordinarily warm and kind, which dissolved my nervousness.

From Japan, I sincerely appreciate your dedication of a lifetime to the world.

R.I.P., Dr. Grenvik

Makito Yaegashi, MD, FACP, FCCP
(UPMC Adult Crit Care fellow 2005-2006)
Chief, Dept. of General Internal Medicine
Kameda Medical Center
Clinical Professor, Tokyo Medical Dental University

I am so sad about the passing of Ake. I was one of his Fellows back in 1977-1978 when the field of Critical Care was not even recognized as a specialty. Because of the tireless efforts of Ake, Critical Care Medicine grew and matured to the high level of expectations and respect in the medical community. He was a “Founder Father” of our field. He taught me how to become a dedicated Critical Care doctor but above all I learned from him his unsurpassed qualities as a decent person, teacher and mentor. I hope he will listen to me now to say goodbye Ake and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you did for me.

Moises R Carpio, MD, FCCP, CHCQM

I will never forget Ake or indeed our 5 am "night time at Presby summary of events" meetings.
Always a gentleman.
Always reasonable, calm, informed, fair and ready to praise and slow to criticize.
Always supportive of research and always patient focused.
An internationalist and an example the likes of which I had never met until then and have not met since.
UPMC was privileged to have him.
He was truly a founding father and giant of Critical Care Medicine in the world.

Rinaldo Bellomo AO
Professor of Intensive Care, The University of Melbourne
Professor of Medicine, Monash University
Honorary Professor of Critical Care Medicine, University of New South Wales
Honorary Fellow, Howard Florey Institute of Physiology
NHMRC Practitioner Fellow and Co-director ANZ Intensive Care Research Centre
Editor-in-Chief, Critical Care & Resuscitation
Director of Intensive Care Research, Austin Hospital
Director of Data Analytics Research and Evaluation (DARE) Centre

I will never forget having the honor of interviewing with Dr Grenvik about 12 years ago. Having completed an atypical track to critical care medicine (endocrinology), I thought I would immediately bring a unique background to my interview with him and impress him. He immediately alluded to many individuals who had a similar background as I did, and provided me with thoughts on where the future of critical care medicine could take me with my background. In that brief moment, I realized the outside the box thinker that he was and how this translated into the rich history of Critical Care Medicine at UPMC. I never had the privilege of directly working with him clinically but during my interview, I immediately understood the innovative forward thinking that he brought to the department and the greater field of critical care medicine. His loss is a giant one and he will be surely missed by trainees throughout the world.

Ajay D Rao, MD, MMSc
Associate Professor of Medicine
Section of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Lewis Katz School of Medicine

The name Ake Grenvik is of course legendary in Critical Care Medicine at a global level. Even though Ake had retired Ake was in the Hospital early every day to call the CCM Fellow to come to his office to report - to summarise the presentations and interventions of the critically ill patients admitted to UPMC Presby during the night. With Ake's laser sharp focus, the main problem and the main intervention for each patient were quickly arrived at and a glance to the effectiveness of the main intervention before formal bedside rounds later. Ake was allied with the equally great Peter Safar who impressed all with his guidance - "meticulous titration of care". How fortunate were we all as Fellows to benefit from the masterful insight and easy going inspiration of the great pioneer leader and legend Dr Ake Grenvik.

Michael Power
Dublin, Ireland

Ake was a wonderful mentor, role model and mensch.

As a UPMC CCM fellow in 81-82, I like most fellows before and after me were pleasantly surprised that the 3:30AM walk rounds with Ake was more than an urban myth. It was a small reward and a soothing comfort for working through the night in the Presby SICU.

Directly and indirectly, through his research and training of fellows, Ake has impacted hundreds of thousands (if not more) lives of ICU patients and their families. Ake was a guiding light for a career in critical care.

Jeffrey M. Rothschild MD, MPH
Associate Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School

I am forever grateful that I had the great opportunity to be a member of the Division of Critical Care Medicine under Ake Grenvik; first as a CCM fellow, then as a faculty member for 3 years.

I stood in awe of Ake's work ethic, his consummate dedication to our profession, his greatness of soul, nobility of spirit in providing the best medical and humanistic care to the critically ill. It was given to me as a member of Division of Critical Care Medicine to have outstanding patient care training experiences under his tutelage. I consider myself lucky to have had the unsurpassed privilege of knowing and working closely with Ake. He was forever a forward thinker, yet always a pragmatic realist in his approach to patient care, understanding well the enormous potentials and the hard limits of critical care medicine.

It is with inexpressible sadness that I learn of Ake's passing. I recall with fondness his many personal kindnesses. The lessons of his incredible devotion to critical care medicine, his example to do our very best for the patient in front of us, shine always for me. Surely Epictetus would say: "He did not travel in vain."

George M. Matuschak, MD, FCCM
James B. and Ethel D. Miller Endowed Professor of Internal Medicine and Pharmacological and Physiological Science
Director Emeritus, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine
Saint Louis University School of Medicine

I was very sorry to hear of Ake Grenvik's passing. When I visited Pittsburgh to give the Ake & Inger Grenvik lecture in 2019, I saw clearly that his legacy extended far beyond his own time in the institution – he laid the foundation for a department that embodied his ethos and advanced on his many achievements. His impact went far beyond his own institution – he was a giant of critical care medicine, making pioneering contributions in so many facets of the specialty. While we mourn his loss, this also gives us the opportunity to recognise and celebrate his many achievements.

David Menon
Prof David K Menon MD PhD FRCP FRCA FFICM FMedSci
Head, Division of Anaesthesia, University of Cambridge
Honorary Consultant, Neurosciences Critical Care Unit, Addenbrooke's Hospital
Professorial Fellow, Queens’ College, Cambridge
Emeritus Senior Investigator, National Institute for Health Research, UK
Chair, European Brain Injury Consortium

This picture was taken Feb 26, 2018 at SCCM in San Antonio at Ake’s book signing. I was first in line.  Thank you, Ake – for your leadership, for your guidance, and for your warmth of heart.


Jason Moore, MD, MS, FCCM
Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine
Director, Critical Care Medicine Fellowship Program
Department of Critical Care Medicine

The Critical Care community has lost a giant!!
We will miss him dearly
Rest In Peace, Ake.

Ali Al-Khafaji, MD, MPH
Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Surgery
Department of Critical Care Medicine
University of Pittsburgh

It is with great emotion that I hear of Ake's passing. Beyond his immense professional accomplishments, Ake was a superb human being, fair, trustworthy, a model of integrity and courage, and a role model for a life well-lived in the service of others well beyond his departure. Ake told you what you needed to hear from a good friend, as it needed to be said: honest, yet respectful; kind, yet truthful; resolute, yet compassionate. He has always been a reliable source of support and inspiration for me, and he will be dearly missed - a man for which I had immense respect and affection.

Gilles Clermont, MD, MSc
Professor of Critical Care Medicine
Department of Critical Care Medicine
University of Pittsburgh

I recall meeting Ake during interview for the MCCTP and his asking clear direct questions… like How many bronchoscopies have I performed? Which made me very nervous, since that number was a whopping 1 at that point in time. Ake was always the consummate educator, still participated in fellow selection process for many years after I had started as junior faculty, and he was always supportive and held EMCCM in positive regard. He defined inclusion into the definition of training in critical care long before DEI was a cool concept (see his original works defining the training of CCM), and I will always remember he and Inger greeting all the attendees at SCCM in the lobby, like the proud father of CCM that he was. Truly a great!

Lillian Emlet, MD, MS
Clinical Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine
Department of Critical Care Medicine
University of Pittsburgh

I found this old photo of Ake enjoying time at his alma matter, Uppsala University. It was taken in April 1999 in the famous Gustavianum—one of the oldest anatomical theaters in the world—located on campus. It was built in ~1622 and I recall that he was quite proud of it. I am the patient here receiving CPR from Ake himself! How cool—he is “successfully” resuscitating the future Grenvik Professor. What a great memory.

Pat Kochanek
Distinguished Professor and Ake N. Grenvik Professor of Critical Care Medicine
Vice Chair, Department of Critical Care Medicine
Director, Safar Center for Resuscitation Research
University of Pittsburgh

I am so sorry to hear this. He was a wonderful colleague and gentleman. We were combined as one department in those years and he, both Peters (Winter and Safar), Paul Rogers and I were struggling to have various organizations and accrediting bodies recognize MCCTP and Anesthesiology CCM. They set forth the model that has finally become recognized as exemplary of the interdisciplinary team. Thank you for letting me know. Stay safe and be well.

Rita Patel, MD
Professor Emeritus
Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine
University of Pittsburgh

There is so much to say about Ake and his impact on the field of critical care medicine worldwide as well as his impact on many intensivists that were mentored by him. His legacy will be well articulated by others. I have many memories, but I will tell a few that come to mind.

As a first-year critical care fellow, I was insubordinate to a well-known and accomplished proper British anesthesiologist attending in the ICU. This anesthesiologist petitioned Ake to release me from the fellowship. Ake stood firm in his support of me, I made it to the second year and finally was appointed to the faculty in 1986. Ake saved my career and served as a role model for myself and many other faculty and fellows. I am forever indebted to him for his generosity and kindness to me.

Ake, Jim Snyder, Ed Nemoto and Peter Safar inspired me towards the emerging field of Brain Resuscitation that would later evolve into the specialty of Neurocritical care. Ake was amongst the visionaries of the time that recognized that our primary goal in critical care medicine was to restore the humanity of our patients with the brain housing the seat of humanity.

Joe Darby, MD
Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Neurosurgery
Department of Critical Care Medicine
University of Pittsburgh

The year was the mid-1980s. I was the medical director of a university hospital in Indianapolis having graduated from an emergency medicine residence at Indiana University-Methodist Medical Center there. I was looking for a critical care fellowship without any luck. The problem was that the practice of critical care was pretty young and emergency physicians were not considered to be a practical commodity since we were pretty much trained in pre-hospital care and we did not admit patients to inpatient care. There was also no critical care board certification for emergency physicians. So, I was told by several fellowship programs I had applied to that I was an outlier, and they (and critical care) had no interest in wasting training on outliers that could not integrate into this emerging specialty.

I had applied to the UPMC critical care fellowship. A buddy in the UPMC neurological surgery residency I happened to know went to see Ake to suggest that he knew me and I would be a good candidate and that Ake should at least interview me, so on the basis of that advice Ake agreed to see me. After looking me over, Ake sadly advised me that emergency medicine was a poison pill and it was unlikely that anyone in critical care would have much interest in me. I would get a lot of expensive training for a career that wasn't open to me.

At that point, metaphorically speaking, I got on one knee and begged for a chance to prove my worth. My niche would be that critical care could be considered emergency medicine for aggressively treated hospital inpatients undergoing what might be called "life support". That would be a novel concept for the emerging specialty of critical care and the worst case scenario for me would be that I would have greatly enhanced qualifications for emergency pre-hospital care.

So to his eternal credit, Ake agreed to give me a shot at it when no one else in CCM training programs had any interest. I think I was the first (of two) emergency medicine graduates to enter the UPMC fellowship program in 1985 and from that year on, the concept of emergency training for critical care took off. Currently, emergency medicine graduates are a prized additions and highly competitive for the UPMC fellowship program that Ake took a chance on with me. Although there are no ABMS exams for EM graduates, we are allowed to sit for the two day European boards which are considered equivalent.

For all that, I owe Ake Grenvik virtually all of my professional life.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus (ret)
Departments of Critical Care, Emergency Medicine and Neurologic Surgery
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

I remember coming into the SICU to round on my patients as a junior surgery resident and seeing Ake already there (he arrived somewhere around 3:30 am) ready to tell me what was going on with my patients. I also recall the clock in Ake’s office with Ake time. I think it had 36 hours on it. I enjoyed having picnics at his house and spending an afternoon there going through the paraphernalia he donated to the department. These items were not just for Pitt CCM, but SCCM and critical care in general.

Sam Tisherman, MD
Professor of Surgery
Director of Surgical Critical Care
University of Maryland School of Medicine