Posts Tagged ‘Blaiberg’

Meeting Phillip Blaiberg

February 21st, 2011

As mentioned, I recently was a speaker at the Smile-On Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

My first trip there was back in 1968, representing a company called Robert H. Sittig Associates, Inc. They were the leading export agents in the dental business, specialising in US-manufactured products. (Those were the days when no one had heard of production in Japan, Korea, Brazil, Pakistan, Eastern Europe. The competitors for the advanced US companies came from countries like Sweden, Germany, France, Italy. We were introducing the disposable needles (Monoject, Mizzy, Sterex, MPL’s Hypo), the first polycarbonate crowns (Ion), porcelain-bonded crowns (Jelenko, Ceramco), the incredible TMS/Parapost lines from Whaledent, ultrasonic baths from L & R and scalers from C & B/Litton, hand instruments from Star and Premier, and so on.

We worked with most of the S. African dealers of those days, Grant Smith, H & P (Dougie Patrick is still around), Taylor & Horne, Comdent, but primarily with Millners, the only larger dental dealer based in Cape Town. The company was run in those days by Gus Millner, ably assisted by his cousin, Max and a special guy called Frank Upsher. We made a great team, setting up presentations around the country, and ‘raking it in’!

But I digress…

Cape Town is the location of the Groote Schuur hospital, where Dr. Christian Barnard was making headlines with his awe-inspiring heart transplants. The first famous patient was Louis Washkansky. He lasted 18 days.

Then came the dentist.

They say that Phillip Blaiberg had a bad heart because he was one of the last to be still using slow-speed dentistry.

I arrived in town during the days following Dr. Blaiberg’s release from hospital, about 3 months after  the operation. He had just been brought home. The papers were full of the story. His daughter, Jill, had just flown in, having spent a year on a kibbutz in Israel. Despite her claim that she had put on a lot of weight during the stay, she still seemed very attractive to this young visitor.

“Wouldn’t mind calling her for a date”, I told Gus. “Why don’t you?”, was his immediate response.

He then told me that there was more than a dental connection here. Gus had been a leading local footballer. Some 3-4 years back, he had received a Valentine card, which the Blaibergs revealed was from their admiring daughter. The perfect conversation opener for me..

I called. Blaiberg himself answered the phone. I asked for Jill. “Who are you,” he had to know. And I told him. “Want to come round for tea”, he asked., “You’re the first caller since I’ve been home who has not wanted to talk to me!”

I did go round for tea. I did meet the family – and became friends. Jill and I did date. I have pictures of our time together, including the first trip outside the house for Phil. He wasn’t allowed to shake hands with anyone; took 27 different pills a day.

He write several times to me.

Here’s one of the notes, from Nov 17, 1968..

“Dear Stephen – It was good to hear from you. I’m feeling fine.  …Millner came to see me when he was here recently. Regards from the family and self, Phillip Blaiberg”.

He died  August 17, 1969, almost 19 months after the op. When I returned, soon after, Jill and her mother invited me to stay with them. I was family.


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