dr. Bradley M. Peterson, MD
March 9, 1944 – May 11, 2021
dr. Bradley M. Peterson, pediatric intensive care physician and longtime resident of San Diego died Tuesday, May 11, 2021 at Palomar Medical Center. He was 77 and had suffered a heart attack at home four days earlier. He left this world peacefully, surrounded by his wife and sons, listening to one of his favorite songs.Dr. Peterson was born on March 9, 1944 in Rockford, Illinois, to Dorothy and Morris Peterson. He was a talented student, athlete and leader at East Rockford High School. He received his bachelor’s and medical degrees from Northwestern University in Illinois. After his medical training, he began training in pediatrics at the University of Minnesota. Shortly after his internship, however, he was drafted into the United States Army. He was stationed at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego and proudly served as a second lieutenant and physician in the United States Navy during the Vietnam War. Always an exceptionally hard worker, he kept a second job and supplemented his pediatrics training by updating at what is now known as Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego. dr. David Chadwick, Rady Children’s first medical director, took note of this exceptional physician and encouraged Dr. Peterson to undergo additional training to prepare him to lead a pediatric intensive care unit in San Diego. dr. Peterson then completed an additional residency in anesthesiology at Stanford University, while continuing to work weekends at Rady Children’s. After training, Dr. Peterson, affectionately known as “Brad” by so many, returned to San Diego and spent the next four decades treating the region’s sickest and most injured children. He was a key figure in both the history of Rady Children’s Hospital and the development of the region’s infrastructure to care for critically ill children.Dr. Peterson was instrumental in the growth and development of the Children’s Hospital Emergency Transport (CHET) system. There was no emergency room in his early days as intensive care director. dr. Peterson rushed through a tunnel connecting Rady Children’s to Sharp Hospital to receive the patients in Sharp and then return the patients to the ICU at Rady Children’s. Together with Dr. Irvin Kaufman was forged into a partnership to centralize all critical pediatric patients in a newly formed modern ICU with a trained specialist at the helm. dr. Peterson went on to serve as CHET’s medical director for decades, helping to grow the program into what it is today. Today, this team provides 24-hour emergency transportation for more than 2,000 critically ill infants and children in the San Diego area each year. The tunnels are no more, and patients are now being transferred through the world-class Sam and Rose Stein Emergency Care Center on the Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego campus. dr. Peterson helped establish the first modern pediatric intensive care unit, or PICU, at Rady Children’s and served as medical director for decades. Under his leadership, the PICU grew from a small 8-bed unit to the internationally recognized 54-bed Ernest Hahn Critical Care Center, featuring both a specialized cardiac and pediatric ICU and some of the best survival rates in the country. He was also instrumental in establishing Rady Children’s as the only Level 1 pediatric trauma center in the region. In 1984, he created a pediatric care fellowship program, a collaboration between Rady Children’s and Balboa Naval Hospital, and later the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. He helped train more than 70 intensive care physicians. He considered mentoring and training future doctors to be one of the most rewarding aspects of his career. These doctors are currently caring for critically ill children on PICUs across the country with ripples around the world. Today, the training program bears his name: The Bradley Peterson Pediatric Critical Care Fellowship. He was also a world-renowned physician-scientist. He conducted extensive research in pediatric intensive care medicine and was considered an expert on numerous topics. He pioneered the use of hypertonic saline to treat severe brain injuries. He has made a significant contribution to the widespread use of high-frequency, low-stretch mechanical ventilation in pediatric patients. He personally cared for more than 30,000 of San Diego’s most critically ill children throughout his career. Meg Norton, Rady’s Chief Administrative Officer for the better part of three decades, recognized Brad’s unique talent and dedication and worked tirelessly to support his life-saving work. At the time of his death, he was writing a book on the history of Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego and how the role a strong intensive care system played in its growth. The manuscript was unfinished, but his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds he touched.Dr. Peterson was certified in pediatrics, neonatology, anesthesiology, critical care medicine and pediatric intensive care. Today, pediatric intensive care physicians inspired to work with the most critically ill and critically injured children have a more direct path: board certification in pediatrics and sub-specialty board certification in pediatric critical care. He is survived by his Rady Children’s Hospital family: administrators, doctors, nurses, social workers, security personnel, domestic workers, cafeteria workers, therapists, technicians and others within the health care system who devote their lives to the health of children. Special recognition is given to Evelyn, who organized him and the entire department as an administrative assistant for 37 years. He leaves Barbara, his wife of 40, his three sons: Jonathan (Amy), Brent (Kaitlyn) and Alexander (Haley) and his sister Donna Kidde (John). Papa Bear is also survived by his five large cubs: Brock, Paige, Blake, MacKenzie and Quinn. He was preceded in death by his parents Dorothy and Morris. Well done, dr. Peterson, with a life in the arena serving others.
Published in San Diego Union-Tribune on June 6, 2021.