Bertha Bouroncle: A Lioness' Share of Contributions

She has been described by a former intern as a “lioness who goes after a diagnosis until she nails it to the wall.” Bertha Bouroncle, MD, an internationally known hematologist and retired professor emerita of Internal Medicine at Ohio State, has created a pride of research, clinical work, and teaching and academic awards. The first to identify a rare form of chronic leukemia in 1958 now known as hairy cell leukemia (HCL), Dr. Bouroncle, along with Michael Grever, MD, and Eric Kraut, MD, developed a drug to treat HCL. So what was once a uniformly fatal cancer is now treatable, enabling patients to lead relatively normal lives.

Her fierce dedication inspired students and colleagues alike. Along with receiving Professor of the Year several times, among other campus-wide honors, she was given the Donald Unverferth Award for Outstanding Academic Contributions to Internal Medicine and the Earl Metz Distinguished Physician Award from the Department of Internal Medicine. Additionally, in 2001, the Bertha Bouroncle Distinguished Lecture Award was established in her honor.

Now she and her family are giving back yet again, creating the Bertha Bouroncle, MD, and Andrew Pereny Chair of Medicine, also named after her late husband. Designated for further medical research on HCL or other types of leukemia at The James, the chair not only “pays tribute to Dr. Bouroncle, one of the greatest medical scholars ever associated with Ohio State’s cancer program, but furthers her legacy” as well as that of other outstanding researchers, says Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

Hematology was in Dr. Bouroncle’s blood, so to speak. A native of Lima, Peru, she finished first in her class at San Marcos National University in Lima, and won a yearlong scholarship in the United States, choosing Ohio State because the faculty included two renowned hematologists -- Charles Doan, MD, and Bruce Wiseman, MD. She joined Ohio State’s medical staff in 1954 after completing her residency and fellowship and remained there throughout her entire career, retiring in 1989.

Through the chair, she and her family continue the tradition of caring. “Aunt Bertha sets a very high standard… something we call the ‘Aunt Bertha Attitude – Nobody can stop you, nothing is impossible,’” observes her nephew Fernando Alvarado. “She’s taught us that, ‘If you’re fortunate to be a talented person, you have a duty to use your talent for the maximum benefit of those around you.’ She always wants to accomplish as much as possible, for herself and for her patients.”

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