Dr. Byron Oberst began his career during one of the darkest periods for pediatric medicine in recent history: the polio epidemic.
The Omaha native had just completed his studies and military service when he returned to the city in 1951 to start his own practice. There, he was greeted with horrific scenes of gravely ill children.
“It was a literal nightmare,” Oberst told The World-Herald last year.
Oberst, a nationally recognized trailblazer in pediatric medicine, died Tuesday at age 99. He was the very first medical resident at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and a pioneer in the creation of electronic medical records systems, according to an obituary penned by Oberst nearly five years before his death.
After graduating from Omaha North High School, Oberst completed his education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and UNMC. He served as a hospital intern before leaving to serve in the U.S. Army Medical Corps between 1948 and 1950. He served as a pediatrician at Fort Dix in New Jersey and was later stationed in Japan, according to the obituary.
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Upon leaving the service, Oberst moved to Detroit to finish his pediatric training at the Henry Ford Hospital. He returned to Omaha in 1951 and became the director of Children’s Memorial Hospital — now Children’s Hospital — while establishing his own practice.
Oberst’s career began as polio ravaged Nebraska. The hospital saw over 300 children with the disease during summer 1952.
“He said that even 60 years later he would wake up in a cold sweat just because of how awful it was,” said Byron Oberst, one of Dr. Oberst’s sons.
As his career progressed, the elder Oberst took a particular interest in treating children and young adults with attention deficit disorders and other school learning problems. In his own words, his practice was a “way of life” more than it was a job.
As technology evolved later in his career, Oberst took an interest in developing computer programs to assist with clinical work. He was the author and developer of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on computers and other technologies, and he served as an adviser to various medical software companies as they worked to create electronic medical records systems, according to his self-written obituary.
The AAP named an award after Oberst in 1989, which is still awarded annually to pediatricians who make significant contributions to pediatric clinical information systems.
“He was truly a pioneer in using technology to communicate,” said son Matthew Oberst. “I mean, he started doing this stuff in the ‘70s.”
Oberst held multiple positions within the AAP on the local, regional and national levels. He was also a founding member of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. Byron and Matt said that the two awards that meant the most to their father were the “Viking of Distinction” award from North High School and Children’s Hospital’s “Legend in Pediatrics” award.
Outside of work, Oberst made time for just about everything. He published seven books, including multiple autobiographical accounts of his medical experience and a children’s book about health. He penned nearly 50 articles and clinical papers while giving hundreds of lectures locally and nationally. He dabbled in photography and had a darkroom in his basement.
He was also a scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts of America, and was incredibly proud of the 38 boys in his troop who became Eagle Scouts.
“Somehow he managed to do all of these things,” Byron said of his father. “I think it boils down to three attributes: an inquisitive mind with an appetite to learn, an ability to outwork almost everyone, and the ability to multitask.”
He is survived by sons Byron, Terrance and Matthew Oberst, two grandsons and four great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 66 years, Mary Oberst, sisters Annabelle Sorensen and Virginia Noriego and grandson Matthew Ryan.
A wake will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at the John A. Gentleman Mortuary chapel at 1010 N. 72nd St. Funeral services will be held at Christ the King Catholic Church at 10 a.m. Monday.
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