Cardiologist delivered secret messages during boyhood in occupied Shanghai

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The eminent doctor, who said his youthful experiences 'made me who I am,' set up what is believed to be Canada's first intensive-care unit

Dr. Dwight Peretz piled up many accomplishments during his distinguished medical career, but nothing quite topped his wartime exploits as a young Allied undercover courier in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Beginning when he was 12 and continuing off and on for 18 months, he was used to carry messages past Japanese guard posts to a secret radio operator for transmission to American intelligence officers.

It was an outstanding career for Dr. Peretz, who died May 27 at the age of 89. For most of it, he was an eminent cardiologist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, part of the hospital’s evolution from a small-ish cottage hospital into a major centre for cardiology and heart surgery in the 1960s. As part of the drive, Dr. Peretz set up what is believed to be the first intensive-care unit in Canada, designed to provide specialized care for patients experiencing postoperative trauma.

Japan’s surrender in 1945 did not end the war’s impact on Dwight, then 14. With supplies still scarce, the U.S. Air Force organized a drop of 150-kilogram food canisters. But the planes flew too low for the parachutes to properly unfurl before the heavy canisters hit the ground at high speed. One fell directly on Dwight’s friend as the two watched the drop, killing him instantly. The grieving youth cut a patch from the parachute, which he framed and kept for the rest of his life.

As a teenager, Dwight had shown the same resourcefulness he demonstrated in Shanghai by building a solid log cabin with a friend on Hollyburn Mountain above West Vancouver, despite never having held an axe in his hand before. It still stands as one of Hollyburn’s heritage cabins.


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