Jan Z. Winkelman, MD, died of Alzheimer disease on March 8, 2007, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the age of 64.
Jan was born in Detroit and attended Mumford High School where he excelled as a competitive swimmer and trumpeter. His father, a dermatologist, died when Jan was 8 years old and his mother became remarried to Isadore Winkelman, the youngest of several brothers who had emigrated to Michigan's Upper Peninsula as merchants. Isadore moved down to Detroit to found the first of many Winkelman women's clothing stores, which rapidly became the most popular source for fine articles at moderate prices. Jan recalled doing odd jobs at the stores with an idea that he might eventually join the family business. But after 4 years as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, he decided to go to medical school, a second-but more realistic-choice than becoming a professional jazz musician.
At Washington University Medical School, he was exposed to the dynamic ophthalmology program and was smitten. After a year as a medical intern at Los Angeles County Hospital, he returned to Washington University for his ophthalmology residency and then a 1-year neuro-ophthalmology fellowship there under the tutelage of Ronald M. Burde, MD.
Following a 2-year stint in the Navy in Norfolk, Virginia, Jan returned to Ann Arbor in 1975 to join a community practice in partnership with Jerry Epstein, MD. John Henderson, MD, then the chairperson of the ophthalmology department at the University of Michigan, soon called on him to help the Michigan residents with their neuro-ophthalmology cases. His trainees remember that Jan was an astute diagnostician.
Eventually he moved into solo practice in affiliation with St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor. His colleagues remember him as an innovative, dedicated, insightful, and selfless physician who did not balk at devoting a large part of his practice to brain-injured patients. In autobiographical notes, Jan said that “I really think that the traumatic brain injury service I ran was the most useful part of my career. It was an honor for me to help these people.”
When he was not practicing neuro-ophthalmology, he was playing the trumpet and raising funds for the local radio station known for its programming of jazz. He took up the study of the Italian language well past his midlife, spurred by fond recall of his junior year summer abroad when he lived with a peasant family in northern Italy. In 1991, he was rejuvenated in remarriage to Sarajane, with whom he melded two families, consisting of his three children, Michael, 39, an English professor, Larry, 37, a mechanical engineer, and Jeffrey, 31, a middle school teacher, and Sarajane's two children, Jill, 38, a social worker, and David, 34, an elementary school principal.
In the latter years of his medical practice, he returned to playing the trumpet. He began weekly lessons with Vincent York, a renowned brass player. Jan told me that he was never as nervous in the operating room as he was before his trumpet lesson. According to Sarajane, he never lost his excellent embouchure. He took his last lesson the week that he died.
Jonathan D. Trobe, MD
Kellogg Eye Center
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan