Lives of the fellows

Arvid Johan Wallgren

b.5 October 1889 d.21 August 1973
Med lic Ups(1914) Dr Med Se Ups(1918) FRCP(1960)

Arvid Wallgren was born in Norra Räda in the province of Värmland, Sweden. His father was a grocer. Wallgren went to school in Arvika and Karlstad. The boyhood years are commemorated in an autobiographical booklet ("Som skolpojke I sekelskiftets Arvika"). In 1908 he took up his medical studies in Uppsala. At that time tuberculosis was still a serious scourge. Wallgren started clinical and experimental work on TB resulting in his thesis for the doctorate in 1918. Shortly afterwards he started extensive work on myelomatosis; his monograph in this field in 1920, with rich morbid anatomy material, is a classic.

Parallel with his research work, Wallgren held clinical clerkships in different disciplines in Uppsala and Stockholm. In the summer of 1921 he spent several months at von Pirquet’s clinic in Vienna. This probably became decisive for his choice of speciality: paediatrics. By the following year, at the age of 32, he became head of the big children’s hospital at Göteborg.

In the 1920s the French scientists Calmette and Guerin introduced a vaccine against TB, later to be designated as BCG. Wallgren was one of the first to study the protective properties in children. He came to the conclusion that the recommended oral route of administration was unsatisfactory and recommended intradermal injection instead. His publication at first aroused vehement opposition from Calmette, who very soon, however, accepted the new approach.

After 20 years of successful activities in Göteborg, Wallgren was asked to accept a chair in paediatrics at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm. He worked in this capacity from 1942 to his retirement in 1956. The Norrtull clinic after the war became one of the cross-roads for paediatricians from all over the world. Through his vast knowledge, his practical bedside approach and his open mind to new ideas, Wallgren represented an ideal physician and teacher. Through his editorship in paediatric textbooks, among them the renowned Fanconi-Wallgren Lehrbuch der Pädiatrie, and in the periodical Acta Paediatrica Scandinavica during 15 years (1950-64), as well as his vital contact with paediatricians all over the world, he exercised a great influence on several generations of physicians. In research his best known contributions, over and above those related to TB and myelomatosis, dealt with "aseptic benign meningitis" (a term coined by Wallgren before viral pathogens were defined), pyloric stenosis, iron deficiency, and last but not least social and preventive paediatrics. He exercised a profound influence on child health and welfare in Sweden.

Wallgren received honorary doctorate degrees from the universities of Paris, Zürich, Cardiff, Dublin, Alger and Santiago. He was an honorary member of more than 20 foreign scientific associations. He was invited guest lecturer or visiting professor to a great many universities including Chicago 1934, Birmingham 1939, Sorbonne Paris 1948, Vanderbilt Nashville 1949, Manchester and Sheffield 1950, Santiago 1952, and New Delhi 1955.

After his retirement from the chair in paediatrics Wallgren continued to work hard and successfully for many years. He was much appreciated for his contributions to international organizations like WHO and UNICEF. He was the first chairman of the Advisory Committee on Medical Research, WHO, Geneva (1959-63). For many years he played a prominent role in the work of the International Paediatric Association, the International Children’s Centre, Paris, and the International Union against Tuberculosis. When he died it was felt as a great loss. In Sweden no one contributed so much to the advancement of paediatrics since the days of Rosen von Rosenstein.

Wallgren married in 1922 Elsa Carlbom, born 1891, daughter of a wealthy Swedish industrialist. He was survived by Mrs Wallgren, a daughter Gudrun and son Göran, and grandchildren.

B Vahlquist

[Acta Paed Scand, 1973, 62, 553-54; Photo; J.A.M.A., 1973, 226, 366; Monatschr Kinderheilkd, 1973, 121, 703-04. Photo; Svenska Läkaresällskapets förhandlingar 1974. Photo; Svenska Nationalföreningen mot Hjärt- och Lungsjuk-domar-kvartalsskrift 4/1973, 103-05]

(Volume VI, page 447)

<< Back to List