Dr. Tracy K. Koogler was a pediatrician at the University of Chicago Medical Center’s Comer Children’s Hospital who worked with children suffering from severe burns, while also treating cancer patients and maintaining an active interest in medical ethics.
“Tracy was an exceptional physician who was an innovator in the care of children with severe burn injuries,” said John Cunningham, chair of the department of pediatrics at the U. of C.
Koogler, 56, died of complications from a glioblastoma — a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer — on Dec. 28 at her mother’s home in Virginia, said her mother, Linda Koogler. She had been a South Loop resident.
Born in Richmond, Virginia, Koogler received a bachelor’s degree in biomedical ethics — a major that she had designed herself, her mother said — from Davidson College in North Carolina, where she also was an athletic trainer for the university’s sports department.
She got her medical degree from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in 1992 and completed a pediatric residency at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and a pediatric critical care fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
In 1998, Koogler moved to Chicago to take a job at the U. of C. as a clinician and professor. While there, Koogler focused on improving the care of pediatric patients suffering from severe burns.
Koogler was assistant director of the U. of C.’s MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, and co-director of the medical center’s Clinical Ethics Consultation Service. Since 2007, Koogler had been a part of the U. of C.’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which reviews protocols to make sure that patients participating in research studies are informed and protected. She became vice chair of that board in 2011.
“Tracy was dependable, smart and collegial,” said Dr. Lainie Ross, who until January was the U. of C.’s Carolyn and Matthew Bucksbaum Professor of Clinical Ethics. “She also loved her work on the IRB and she was incredibly good at that.”
Dr. K. Sarah Hoehn, a pediatric intensive care unit physician at the U. of C., said Koogler’s work ethic “was second to none.”
“She was especially skilled at helping families and health care teams navigate very difficult circumstances,” Hoehn said. “And she had compassion and empathy for patients in difficult situations. Her lived experience as a cancer patient gave her even more empathy for her patients.”
In 2012, Koogler and Ross co-authored an academic paper that took issue with labeling congenital syndromes as lethal anomalies, when many such syndromes no longer are necessarily lethal. The paper argued that use of such language implied a medical determination on what actually is more of a judgment about a child’s quality of life.
They wrote that such inaccurate language could have a negative impact on how clinicians chose to treat such children.
Koogler was an advocate of organ donation, and she was on the advisory board of the nonprofit Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, which coordinates organ and tissue donations in Illinois and northwest Indiana.
Koogler had a rare hereditary cancer predisposition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome, her mother said. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016 and with a glioblastoma in 2019, her mother said. Through those struggles, she never stepped back from her work, her mother said.
The U. of C. honored Koogler in 2020 with its Distinguished Clinician Award.
Koogler is also survived by a brother, William Todd; and a special friend, Mark Schimmelpfennig.
Services were held.
Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.
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