Vainutis Kazimieras Vaitkevicius, ‘Dr. Vee’

Vainutis Kazimieras Vaitkevicius, “Dr. Vee” was born on January 12, 1927, in Kaunas, Lithuania. He passed December 24, 2017, at the Omega House Hospice in Houghton.

Above all else, his life was defined by his perseverance and compassion, which was shaped by the immense hardships he and his family endured; but more importantly by the people who stood in defiant contrast to the savage turmoil which surrounded them. People who celebrated life, who held a great faith and who shared the deepest sense of compassion.

His father, Henrikas Vaitkevicius was an architectural engineer who died in forced exile in the Ural Mountains, after being arrested for his political convictions. His mother, Kamilija Zakaviciute was a nurse who spent years in a Siberian labor camps protecting his brothers and mourning her husband’s death.

During his early years, being a musical prodigy, he dreamed of being a concert pianist and was schooled by Jesuits in Kaunas, Lithuania

On June 14, 1941, he was separated from his family when he narrowly escaped KGB organized mass arrests that lead to the exile of the rest of his family. Finding himself alone he was sheltered by his grandfather, Vytautas Zakavicius, a strongly opinioned man who was trained as a physician and a botanist. Dr. Vee often spoke about the early lessons he learned from his grandfather. Sadly his grandfather was executed by the Nazi after he was found to have hidden Jewish children, decades later he was recognized by the Jewish Community for this act.

Dr. Vee later lived with his aunt, Dr. Jadvyga Zakaviciute, who was a prominent physician in Lithuania. To avoid the ongoing forced conscriptions by the Nazis she fictitiously diagnosed Dr. Vee with tuberculosis and hid him in a quarantined ward.

As the front of the World War II was moving across Lithuania it became clear that it was unsafe to remain in Lithuania and by the end of 1944 Dr. Vee found himself in a Lithuanian refugee camp outside of Frankfurt, Germany. It is there that he started to develop his leadership skills as he was instrumental in establishing local secondary school for Lithuanian refugees. This is the school that he himself graduated from surrounded by many subsequently well-established classmates including the future president of Lithuania. Unfortunately, during the same time he injured his hand and was no longer able to play piano, while his dreams were shattered he never lost the love for classical music.

In search of a new focus and career he enrolled into seminary but his wishes of priesthood were changed when he met the love of his life, Ingeborg Jansen. His final and ultimate calling became medicine and he graduated from Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universitaet Frankfurt Medical School in 1951. Being a physician was not one of his initial vocational plans, he was once quoted as saying “frequently accidents determine what we do in life” and decades later oncology care in Detroit was forever changed.

His academic career was rich and prolific and expanded the resources of Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Karmanos Cancer Center. He trained and inspired numerous medical students, residents and fellows. Bolstered by his colleagues and students, their research efforts have fundamentally changed the treatment of several varieties of cancers. Most of all he was very proud of his work with the School of Medicine and once said that it was Wayne State that made his career so successful and if it were not for Wayne State there would not have been a “Dr. Vee”.

In 1951 without much knowledge of English language, he moved to Detroit, for his post graduate training. In 1953 he began a two year stent in the United States Army where he achieved the rank of Captain

In 1955 he enrolled in residency programs at Detroit Grace Hospital as well as Detroit Receiving Hospital and later completed a fellowship in Medical Oncology at the Detroit Institute for Cancer Research.

In 1959 he served as an attending physician in the Oncology services at Henry Ford Hospital and was later appointed Assistant Professor of Medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine. In 1962 he was named clinical director at the Detroit Institutes of Cancer Research, In 1966 was appointed Associate Professor of Medicine at Wayne State University and became the Director of Wayne’s new Division of Conjoint Services and Curriculum in Oncology

He received on several occasions “Best Clinical Teacher Award of the Year from Wayne State School of Medicine and in 1972 was named Professor of Medicine. In 1978 he was named Associate Director for Clinical Activities in the Comprehensive Cancer Institute of Metropolitan Detroit. In 1980 he was recipient of the Wayne State University “Leo M. Franklin Award in Human Relations. In 1981 he was recipient of a Life Time Achieve Award from the American Cancer Society as well as recipient of Wayne States “Lawrence M. Weiner Award “.

In 1982 he was named physician in-chief at the Detroit Medical Center and the chief of Medicine at Harper Grace Hospital

1987 he was honored by the Detroit News as a Michiganian of the Year and became the recipient of the Tree-of-Life Award by the National Jewish Federation 1994 he was name Professor Emeritus and them President Bill Clinton appointed Dr. V to National Cancer Advisory Board which is based in Bethesda Maryland. He was also the recipient of the Scientist of the Year Award from the Scientific Committee of the Cancer, AIDS and Immunology Research Institute at Bar Iian University in Israel.

In 1995 he played a pivotal role in establishment of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and later became medical director of the home care and hospice. In 2000 he was named interim president of the Karmanos Cancer Institute as well as Interim Chief of Wayne’s Division of Hematology-Oncology.

He was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Ingeborg; and survived by his daughters, Eva Marks and Camille; and his sons, Henrikas, Peter, Walter and Martin.

Visitation will be held January 1, 2018, at the Sullivan Funeral Home in Royal Oak from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. and on January 2, 2018, in-state from 9:30 a.m. unitl 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church in Royal Oak. A Funeral Mass will be held on January 2, 2018 at 10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Royal Oak.

It is the family’s wish that rather than flowers, donations be made to the Karmanos Cancer Center, as a tribute to his life’s goal to improve the treatment and care of cancer patients.