Jan. 24, 2022
World-renowned UCalgary researcher, clinician passes peacefully at home
Dr. George Wyse, MD, PhD, professor emeritus at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), passed away peacefully alongside his wife of 58 years, Bonnie, in their home in Canmore on Jan. 6, 2022.
Wyse, a world-renowned cardiac arrhythmia clinician-scientist and longtime member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute (LCI), retired from clinical practice in December 2016. His contributions to the CSM and the institute are immeasurable.
"Some people have an impact on an organization and the people around them that far exceeds their short lifetime. Dr. George Wyse is one of these people,” says Dr. Paul Fedak, MD, PhD, the director of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and head of the Department of Cardiac Sciences.
“His influence on the Department of Cardiac Sciences and the LCI is unprecedented. We will never forget him. We will always appreciate him. His legacy will endure."
Fedak’s thoughts are echoed by Dr. Carlos Morillo, MD, section chief of cardiology, who knew Wyse for 20 years.
“Dr. George Wyse was one of the most esteemed and admired colleagues in the Division of Cardiology,” says Morillo. “George was a visionary, innovator and selfless mentor to many here and across the country. He was one-of-a-kind and the footprint he leaves behind will never be erased.”
Wyse’s interest in the medical field hailed back to his childhood, spent in British Columbia during the Second World War. With his father overseas, he was very close to his mother, who suffered from high blood pressure during a time when there were no effective therapies.
Wyse’s life changed drastically when his mother died of a stroke while he was a still a teen. She was just 42. Her death motivated Wyse to pursue a career in the medical field, a place where he hoped he could make a difference.
Wyse enrolled in the University of British Columbia’s pharmacy program. During his last year at the institution, he took on a project that piqued his lifelong interest in research. He eventually completed his PhD in pharmacology at McGill University and conducted postdoctoral research at the University of New Mexico (UNM), where he honed his skills in vascular biology.
By the time the Vietnam War came along, Wyse had been promoted to assistant professor at UNM, but he wanted to return to Canada.
“I went on a road trip across Canada to visit medical schools,” he said in an interview conducted in 2017, when he delivered the 2017 Lecture of a Lifetime. Wyse visited the University of Calgary in 1970, just four years after it became an independent university, and he enrolled in 1971.
Wyse was part of the second class that graduated from what was then called the Faculty of Medicine, now the Cumming School of Medicine, and he completed his residency training in Calgary and Portland, where he specialized in cardiology.
He returned to the University of Calgary in 1978 as faculty, beginning his more than 35-year tenure. He received full professorship in 1985.
Wyse’s achievements continued: he was chief of cardiology for the Calgary region from 1986 to 1993 and associate dean (clinical affairs) in the CSM from 1993 to 1999.
Wyse’s research career was also notable. During his 2017 UCalgary Lecture of a Lifetime presentation, he detailed two cardiac-arrhythmia research projects in which he held major leadership roles: the Cardiac Arrhythmia Suppression Trial (CAST) and the Atrial Fibrillation Follow-up Investigation of Rhythm Management (AFFIRM). Both impacted the treatment of heart patients globally.
CAST took place in the mid-1980s and resulted in the understanding that some of the agents being used to treat cardiac arrhythmia patients at the time were increasing mortality in patients, rather than achieving their intended purpose of preventing sudden cardiac death.
AFFIRM, an NIH (National Institutes of Health)-funded study of Wyse’s design, took place in the 1990s when many cardiologists used drugs to keep people with atrial fibrillation in normal rhythm, showed no significant benefit of using the drugs.
These studies, along with Wyse’s other work, resulted in more than 300 publications and more than 18,000 citations. He was the founding member of the cardiac electrophysiology group at UCalgary and former chief of cardiology.
Wyse received numerous awards during his career including the 2007 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Heart Rhythm Society, an Annual Achievement Award from the Canadian Cardiovascular Society in 2008, the Top 40 Alumni award (2007) and Distinguished Alumni award (2005) from the UCalgary.
He was also president of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta, Northwest Territories and Nunavut and a founding and long-serving member of the LCI board.
Dr. Eldon Smith, MD, a cardiologist and the former dean of the CSM began working with Wyse 40 years ago and the two, along with their families, were good friends. He says Wyse made “valuable, sage and lasting contributions” to the faculty and institute.
“Throughout his career in Calgary, George provided outstanding leadership, mentorship to colleagues, added prestige to the academic achievement of our institutions and, above all, did this with compassion and grace. We have all lost a valued colleague and friend,” says Smith. “I am deeply saddened by his death.”
Dr. Brent Mitchell, MD, the inaugural director of the LCI, was Wyse’s colleague for 50 years, both working in the field of academic clinical cardiac electrophysiology.
“At that time, Dr. Wyse was attending medical school while simultaneously running a basic science laboratory investigating hypertension. This astonishing achievement was only the first of many that I witnessed,” says Mitchell. “Ultimately, we became partners and friends back at the University of Calgary. George was the major influencer of my subsequent career and I, like everyone else in his life, will forever be grateful for having known him.”
Vice-Dean of the CSM and former Libin Institute Director Dr. Todd Anderson, MD, who worked under the mentorship of Wyse, agrees.
“Dr. Wyse had tremendous impact on my training and career,” says Anderson. “However, more importantly George and Bonnie Wyse were great friends to many of us including my partner Karen and I. These were tremendous people who will be missed on a daily basis.”
Read a tribute to Wyse and his wife.