William L. Ashburn, M.D., Professor Emeritus of Radiology at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, died Sunday, April 18 in his La Jolla home of prostate cancer. He was 71. He will be buried at El Camino Memorial Park in a private ceremony. A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 24 at the UCSD Faculty Club on the UCSD campus.
A founding member of the UCSD School of Medicine faculty and a pioneer in Nuclear Medicine, Dr. Ashburn retired from UCSD in 1994, and in 1995 became Medical Director of Digirad Corporation, a locally-headquartered company that specializes in solid-state gamma cameras and provides cardiology imaging programs to hospitals, imaging centers and physician offices.
A distinguished scholar, researcher and inventor in the field of Nuclear Medicine, Dr. Ashburn was also well-known locally as an accomplished musician who performed at concerts and events in many different bands over the years, including Biorhythm, specializing in Big Band music, and Finest City Jazz Band, a regular feature at the Del Mar (now County) Fair. He developed his lifetime love of music in second grade when he learned to play the recorder and first began playing in bands in high school, performing on the saxophone and clarinet.
Dr. Ashburn had over 30 years experience in medical diagnostic imaging, and was at the forefront of radiologists who developed the potential of Nuclear Medicine in diagnosing disease. Officially recognized as a medical specialty in the early 1970s, Nuclear Medicine utilizes tiny amounts of radioactive particles injected into the bloodstream to detect abnormalities such as clots and tumors. Among Dr. Ashburn’s many contributions to the field were groundbreaking applications of nuclear imaging to detect heart and lung disease.
“Many times in life, you work with or meet people who impact many lives,” said David Sheehan, President and CEO of Digirad. “Dr. Bill Ashburn was one of those people. It was with Bill's guidance that we developed the first product, tested that product and refined it. We were fortunate to celebrate his contributions at a dinner in October, when Bill's health was waning. In that celebration, many people realized that the man made contributions to Nuclear Medicine few of us understood. These contributions impacted the lives of thousands because he advanced Nuclear Medicine and made it a standard of care, helping patients throughout the United States. It has been said that ‘We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us.’ In Bill's case we clearly do.”
A respected clinician, he was named one of the “Best Specialists in the United States” by Town and Country Magazine. He was a Fellow in the American Colleges of Nuclear Physicians and Radiology and a member of numerous professional organizations including the Society of Nuclear Medicine, for which he also served as Vice President, and the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology. He served as a representative of the American College of Radiology to the Joint Review Committee for Nuclear Medicine Technology Training.
Dr. Ashburn was born in Staten Island, New York on Jan. 18, 1933 and grew up in Maryland. He was a graduate of Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), received his M.D. from the University of Maryland in 1959 and served his radiology residency at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he was Chief of the Radioisotope Section prior to joining the UCSD faculty in 1968. He served as Chief of the Division of Nuclear Medicine at UCSD from 1968 until his retirement in July 1994.
He is survived by his wife of 43 years, Sally; three children, the Rev. Don Ashburn of Oakland, CA; Dana Krehmke of Del Mar, CA and Leigh Joas of Carmel Valley, CA; three grandchildren, Griffin and Madeline Ashburn, and Allison Joas, and his mother, Serena of Escondido, CA.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the William L. Ashburn Memorial Lectureship and Musical Tribute that has been established at UCSD to honor his memory. Checks should be written to the UCSD Foundation, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-8982, with a note that the check is to support the William Ashburn fund.
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