Michael Huckman, MD, 1936-2021

Early leader in neuroradiology helped introduce CT and MRI technology, championed equality

University January 26, 2021
A doctor views radiology images while a colleague looks on.

As the first director of the Section of Neuroradiology at what now is Rush University Medical Center, Michael Huckman, MD, helped introduce and refine the use of CT and MRI technology in clinical care and trained dozens of young physicians in its uses. He also was a champion of equality who helped bring diversity to his field. 

Huckman died peacefully on Jan. 19 at his home in Chicago in the presence of his two sons. He was 84 years old. 

After training under the late Juan M. Taveras, MD, who revolutionized the practice of neuroradiology in the United States, Huckman came to work at what was then Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center in 1970 and remained the Medical Center’s director of neuroradiology until his retirement in 2012, when he became professor emeritus of radiology.

When Huckman arrived at Rush, computed tomography (CT) scanning technology was still two years from being invented, and the first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), exam would take five years more. These diagnostic imaging technologies would transform the field of radiology, but it took Huckman and a devoted group of expert physicians to shepherd their introduction into clinical practice and refine that practice with research in these new techniques. 

Rush was the first institution in Chicago, and third in the United States, to acquire a CT scanner. Developed in England, CT scanning combines multiple images from rotating X-ray machines to provide detailed cross-sectional images of the body.

Michael Huckman, MD, and Margaret Thatcher

A year after the Medical Center installed its first CT scanner in October 1973, Huckman organized and chaired a two-day conference on the use of CT brain scanning that was attended by more than 200 people from 35 states. In 1975, he hosted a visit by future British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — at the time a Member of Parliament and Leader of the Conservative Party — who traveled to the Medical Center to learn about the English technology in American practice.

As a researcher, Huckman focused on neuroimaging of degenerative brain diseases and authored more than 140 papers, book chapters and editorials, many of which are considered groundbreaking in the field.

He also led Rush’s neuroradiology fellowship program, mentoring nearly 100 fellows and international visiting fellows in the diagnosis and characterization of neurologic abnormalities. His postgraduate course, CT of the Brain, Computed Tomography and Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, Head, Neck, and Spine, was the first of its kind in the U.S. when he began teaching it in the mid-70s.

Recruiting and nurturing diverse talent

Huckman was a pioneer in providing opportunities in his field. “He trained the first woman and the first black neuroradiology fellows (Ruth Ramsey, MD, and Calvin Flowers, MD),” says Sharon Byrd, MD, the chairperson of the Medical Center’s Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine

“He was a mentor to me,” adds Byrd, whom Huckman recruited to Rush. “When I became chair, one of the few black female chairs, Mike was very supportive. I’ve tried to follow his example of fairness and equality.” 

Huckman also provided fellowships for spouses Miral Jhaveri, MD, and Palmi Shah, MD, who originally trained in India, and then arranged for additional positions so they could remain at Rush. “He opened so many doors for my wife and me. He changed both of our lives in the best possible way,” says Jhaveri, who succeeded Huckman as director of neuroradiology.  

“Not only was he the mentor that everybody hopes they’d have in their life, he also was a great friend, one of the nicest people I ever encountered in my life, a gentleman’s gentleman,” says Shah, the director of the Medical Center’s Section of Thoracic Radiology.

“He brought in diverse talent, and he supported diverse talent. Michael also supported gender equity: Whether at Rush or when he was serving in his roles leading national and international neuroradiology associations and meetings, he was always mindful that there were women and others underrepresented in medicine included and speaking,” says Sheila Dugan, MD, interim chairperson of the Medical Center’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, chair of the Women’s Leadership Council and co-chair of the Rush system’s Racial Justice Action Committee.

There once was a doctor named Huckman …

Michael and Beverly Huckman

Huckman shared his commitment to equality and inclusion with his late wife of 54 years, Beverly Huckman (née Blachman), whom he married in 1964 and who was the Medical Center’s associate vice president for equal opportunity. “He was sincerely committed to my mother. He took as much pride in her achievements as he did in his,” says their son Robert Huckman, PhD, the Albert J. Weatherhead III Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and faculty chair of the school’s health care initiative.  

“Between the two of them, my parents retired with 80 years of combined service to Rush, and each of them viewed the other’s achievements as important as their own. They were a model couple.”  

“Every year, when his fellows graduated, he and Mrs. Huckman would host a dinner for their section at their home. It was a tradition each of us would look forward to,” Shah remembers. “At each dinner, he would recite a unique, five-line limerick for everyone in the room, which was different each year for each staff member.”

“He was an incredibly clever man, and he saw humor as the byproduct of being thoughtful,” Robert Huckman says. “He often connected with people through humor.”

Huckman conducted himself with humility despite his international renown in neuroradiology, Byrd observes. A leader in many professional organizations, Huckman was a fellow of the American College of Radiology, served as president of the American Society of Neuroradiology and the World Federation of Neuroradiological Societies, and was editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Neuroradiology. 

He received the Gold Medals of the Radiological Society of North America and the American Society of Neuroradiology and was made an honorary member of the neuroradiological societies of India, Japan and Turkey, the Radiological Society of Brasilia, and the European Society of Neuroradiology.

Love of family, sports and books

The son of a dentist, Huckman was born in Newark, New Jersey. He received a bachelor’s in biology from Princeton University in 1958 and his medical degree in 1962 from St. Louis School of Medicine, which gave him its Alumni Merit Award in 2012. Following an internship at Philadelphia General Hospital, Huckman served two years as a lieutenant in the United States Navy, including a year as medical officer aboard the USS Sandoval.

Huckman then completed a residency in radiology at Philadelphia General Hospital and a fellowship in neuroradiology training with Taveras at the Edward Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology at Washington University in St. Louis. 

In addition to his professional accomplishments, Huckman was a devoted family man who supported his wife and sons much in the same way he did his fellows. “My father had priorities that made him present in the lives of his family above all else,” Robert Huckman says. “He was able to balance that with an incredible degree of achievement professionally, and Rush provided him that opportunity.”

Huckman loved history, opera (“sung in Italian but not barked in German,” he said) and books — he was a member of the Caxton Club, a Chicago-based bibliophilic society, and collected first editions of authors’ first novels. He also was a passionate fan of Chicago sports, especially the White Sox. 

“He taught me how to throw a knuckleball,” Robert Huckman recalls. “My father never played, and a knuckleball is hard to throw, but he was good at it. When I tried to do it, I almost broke a plate glass window.”

Nonetheless, Robert Huckman has taught the knuckler to his son, Noah, passing the lesson down from grandfather to grandson. 

Andrew Huckman, a Chicago attorney, remembers his father bringing him to Rush whenever he read films on weekend call, back in the 1970s. “So I joined him again on his 70th birthday, which fell on a Sunday morning in 2006. By the time I arrived at 5:30 a.m., he was well into the morning queue of cases.”

“Our last weekend together at Rush, just this month, was Dad’s favorite,” Andrew Huckman recalls. “He was elated to be back and grateful for one more look at his colleagues, old and new, at their caring and professional best. Rush was optimistic for Dad, and Dad was optimistic for Rush. That’s how I’ll remember him.”

Services have been held. Michael Huckman is survived by Andrew and his wife Elaine Serafim, and Robert and his wife Jennifer Burbridge and their son, Noah. The family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Beverly and Michael Huckman Research Fund or Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston, Illinois.
 

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