Advancing paediatric surgery through education and research

Professor Michael E Höllwarth obituary

Professor Michael E Höllwarth (1943-2024)

The international paediatric surgical community sadly lost an important member on 12th March 2024. Professor Michael Höllwarth from Graz, Austria passed away peacefully at home with his partner Christa besides him.

Michael was born on May 3, 1943 in Reutte, Tyrol, Austria. He completed his medical education at the Medical University of Innsbruck graduating in 1968, with specialization in General Surgery in 1974. He pursued further training under Prof. Fritz Rehbein in Bremen, Germany and Prof. Hugo Sauer and by 1981 was elected as Full Professor of Paediatric Surgery. He crossed the Atlantic in 1985 to work with Prof. Neil Granger as an Associate in the Department of Physiology, Mobile, Alabama but returned to Europe in 1989 as Head of the Department in Bern, Switzerland. His final move was in 1997, when he became Head of the Department of Paediatric Surgery at the Medical University in Graz remaining there until retiring in 2012.

Michael was instrumental in the development of Paediatric Surgery at Graz and in re-positioning it as one of the leading tertiary centres in Europe. Michael noted that the unique geographical position of Graz served as a trauma referral centre for both an urban and a rural population, and he established a major Paediatric Accident and Trauma Prevention Programme based on detailed analysis of injury demographics and patterns. He also felt it important to educate the local population on trauma prevention programs which had a major impact in reducing paediatric trauma in the region. The success lured many paediatric surgeons from all over the world who visited Graz to get better insights into the program and to implement it in their own centres.

Michael’s most visionary contribution to our field, however, was the foundation of the European Paediatric Surgeons’ Association (EUPSA) and he was elected as its Founding President. The organisation increased its members and influence over the subsequent decades to become one of the largest paediatric surgical organisations in the world. A key factor that Michael recognized was the economic inequality in Europe and was supportive of colleagues from developing East European countries to enable their integration in EUPSA.

In 2009, Graz hosted the Joint Congress of the EUPSA and BAPS, in part driven by Michael’s desire to foster better relationships between the associations. The success of the Joint Congress later led to the 2nd Joint Congress of EUPSA and BAPS in Rome, Italy in 2012. Furthermore, Michael fostered maintaining continuous exchanges among prominent leaders in the field for which he established in 2000 the Annual Paediatric Surgical Week Forum in the ski resort of Kühtai, Austria.

Michael was the recipient of numerous awards and honours. Besides, being the Founding President of EUPSA, he was the President of the Austrian Association of Pediatric Surgeons and Austrian Committee of Accident Prevention in Childhood. For outstanding contribution to Pediatric Surgery, he was the recipient of the Great Honorary Medal of Gold of the Styrian Government and the Styrian Award for the rights of Children, the Kafka Medal from the Czech Association of Pediatric Surgeons, the Rehbein Medal from the EUPSA, the Sir Denis Browne Gold Medal from the BAPS , the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Indian Association of Pediatric Surgeons (IAPS), and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the World Federation of Pediatric Surgical Associations (WOFAPS). Michael was bestowed the Honorary Membership of the Baltic, Czech, German, Hungarian, Indian, and Swiss Associations of Paediatric Surgeons.

Michael had a keen interest in academia and published over 230 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and over 40 chapters in paediatric surgical textbooks. He was also  the co-editor of four books in Pediatric Surgery and was instrumental in the establishment of the Pediatric Surgery International journal. Furthermore, with his interest in research, he was also involved in founding the International Board of Paediatric Surgical Research with the aim to organise the Annual International Symposium on Paediatric Surgical Research (ISPSR), bringing investigators together that contribute to the progress of research in paediatric surgery.

I had the privilege of working with Michael at the Medical University of Graz from 2005 until his retirement in 2012, and beyond that as part of the EUPSA Executive Board. Michael was an extremely skilled surgeon and a revered mentor. He was widely recognized for his exceptional surgical expertise earning a reputation for his precision and meticulous attention to detail in performing complex procedures. He mentored my academic career with his unwavering support and guidance. He had a thirst for knowledge in research projects and a commitment to excellence. I had the honor of co-authoring multiple scientific publications and presentations with him, but most of all was privileged to publish the book Essentials of Pediatric Endoscopic Surgery(Springer) with Michael as the co-editor. His leadership was exemplary and his visionary and holistic approach to enhancement of pediatric surgery beyond the domains of the operating rooms was inspirational.

Michael’s legacy extends beyond the operating room; he shaped countless lives with his wisdom and guidance, instilling values of excellence and empathy in his mentees. His legacy is etched in the hearts of colleagues and patients alike, a beacon of inspiration and healing. Michael  leaves behind a profound void in the paediatric surgical community, but his impact will endure through the countless lives he touched. His legacy will not merely be measured in accolades but in the lives he saved and the minds he shaped. As colleagues mourn his loss, they also celebrate a life lived with purpose and integrity. Michael will be remembered not only for his surgical prowess but for his unwavering commitment to humanity, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of all who knew him.

Michael is survived by his partner Christa, wife of many years Susan, sons Tobias, Florian and Stefan, daughters-in-law Sigrid, Karin and Bettina, and grandchildren Julia, Fabian, Benjamin, Lilian and Julian.

On a personal note, it was a great privilege to have spent a time of over two decades with a person of his stature with trust and understanding. I was treated as family and shared countless memorable events with him during this time. He remained an unwavering pillar of support, even before and beyond the years of my time spent in Graz.

You will be missed Michael. May you rest in peace.


Mr Amulya Saxena

Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, Imperial College London.

[edited by Mark Davenport]

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