Dr. Abe Bergman remembered for child advocacy

A longtime UW School of Medicine pediatrician, Dr. Bergman was a national leader in many policy efforts to safeguard children.

Media Contact: Susan Gregg - sghanson@uw.edu, 206-390-3226

Dr. Abraham “Abe” B. Bergman, a pediatrician noted for leading many successful national efforts to pass legislative acts to protect the safety of children, died Nov. 10 in Seattle. He was 91.

Dr. Bergman joined the faculty of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1964 and practiced at Seattle Children's (then known as Children’s Orthopedic Hospital). He was head of ambulatory care at Seattle Children’s for many years before moving to Harborview Medical Center as chief of pediatrics in 1983.

He retired in 2016 as a professor emeritus, but remained active in editorial writing and in other advocacy efforts on issues affecting the health of children and the U.S. healthcare system.

A native of Seattle, he graduated from Garfield High School in 1950, Reed College in 1954, and from Case Western Reserve Medical School in 1958. After his residency at Boston Children's Hospital, he completed an ambulatory fellowship with Dr. Julie Richmond, the former Surgeon General and founder of Head Start.

His accomplishments are legion. He knew and worked with U.S. Senators Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Warren Magnuson and Slade Gorton. Through them, Dr. Bergman was responsible for the Flammable Fabrics Act in 1967, which required manufacturers to make children’s sleepwear flame-retardant; the Poison Prevention Packaging Act in 1970, which required medications to be sold in child-resistant containers; and the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Act in 1974, which required the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to sponsor and oversee research on SIDS. 

picture of Dr. Abe Bergman's family at his 90th birthday
A Bergman family photo at Dr. Bergman's 90th birthday. He was a father to eight children and grandfather to six.

Dr. Bergman was responsible for the creation of the National Health Service Corps in 1972. The legislative process for the bill and Dr. Bergman's role in it is the subject of Eric Redman’s The Dance of Legislation, a book that described how Capitol Hill lawmakers used to work.

With trauma surgeon Dr. Cliff Herman, he created the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in 1985 and was responsible for the campaign to promote bicycle helmet use. One of his more recent projects involved working with the City of Seattle to provide space for the Seattle PlayGarden, where children with disabilities can play.

Dr. Bergman mentored hundreds of pediatricians in his long career and taught them the importance of keeping true to their values, and always with the goal in mind of improving the health of children, said UW Medicine pediatrics and injury-prevention colleague Dr. Fred Rivara.

“He was an iconoclast who pushed us all to do better,” Rivara said.

Dr. Bergman was fond of saying he was most proud of raising his own eight children: Anna Bergman of Vallejo, Calif.; Ben Bergman of Los Angeles; Pavel Fiala of Auburn, Wash.; and Matthew Bergman, Sarah Bergman Lewis, Becca Bull, Eugeny Fiala and Yulia Fiala, all of Seattle. His youngest three children were adopted at different times from orphanages in Russia. Dr. Bergman is also mourned by his six grandchildren.

Dr. Bergman was the son of the late Seattle business owners and community leaders Fred H. and Minnie Bergman. 

Condolences for the Bergman family may be sent to Dr. Sarah Bergman Lewis, Ballard Pediatrics, 7554 15th Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98117.

Donations in Dr. Bergman's memory can be made to Seattle PlayGarden.

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