Frederick Bonte, Nuclear Medicine Pioneer at Dallas' UT Southwestern, Dies at 94

X-rays were basically the only imaging technology available when Dr. Frederick James Bonte arrived in Dallas in 1956.Recruited to form a radiology department at what is now UT Southwestern Medical Center, Bonte became a nationally recognized pioneer in nuclear medicine. His years of innovative leadership and research led to the use of isotopes to make three-dimensional images the brain and heart.The 94-year-old professor emeritus died Nov. 28 of natural causes at his Dallas home.A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Dec. 16 at St. Monica Catholic Church in Dallas, where he was a member. A reception at the church will follow."He was visionary in seeing the potential of nuclear medicine," said Dr. William R. Hendee, professor emeritus of radiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a former graduate student of Bonte's at UT Southwestern. "He was also visionary in building a radiology department that was second to none in the country as far as the quality of the people who trained under him."Bonte built the Dallas medical school's program from the ground up. The school had radiological services, but not a radiology department, said his daughter Anne Belli Perez of Dallas."It was a one-man shop," said Perez, known as Anne Belli Gesalman during her years as a Dallas Morning News reporter, from 1988-1996.During Bonte's 17 years of leadership, the department grew to have 23 faculty members. He established one of the nation's first nuclear medicine laboratories at the medical school, where he was a researcher, practitioner and professor.Bonte was one of 10 founding members of the the American Board of Nuclear Medicine in 1971. He also was the group's first president.In 1973, Bonte was named dean of the Dallas medical school."He was an excellent teacher, and he was an excellent administrator, with a lot of concern and support for the people who worked with him," Hendee said. "Fred treated everybody the same. He never treated people as his underlings."In 1980, Bonte returned to laboratory research, creating UT Southwestern's Center for Nuclear Medicine.In 1989, the UT Southwestern team unveiled SPECT, imaging technology that allowed exploration of the brain without surgery. Its first use was in assisting in the diagnosis and study of Alzheimer's disease and identifying strokes. SPECT is an acronym standing for single-proton emission computed tomography.Born in Bethlehem, Pa., Bonte received his bachelor's and medical degrees from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, now Case Western Reserve University.He was introduced to his specialty when he was randomly assigned to radiology at Percy Jones Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich., while serving in the Army during World War II. He was named chief of the X-ray service at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado.In 1948, Bonte received a fellowship from an Atomic Energy Commission project at Western Reserve. He was chief of radiation therapy and nuclear medicine at Western Reserve when he was recruited by UT Southwestern.Bonte shared his intelligence in a witty way, his daughter said."He always kept kept us laughing," Perez said. "He had a dry sense of humor that just came out of nowhere."Bonte also applied his intellect to his personal interests of trains, the American West and the outdoors. As an undergraduate, he studied history, literature, art and music."He wasn't a braggadocious man," Perez said. "When he talked about what he knew, it wasn't 'This is what I know,' but 'Isn't this interesting?' "Bonte retired in from UT Southwestern four years ago.He received numerous awards including the George Charles de Hevesy Nuclear Medicine Pioneer Award from the Society of Nuclear Medicine.In addition to his daughter, Bonte is survived by his wife, Cecile Bonte of Dallas; three sons, Frederick W. Bonte of Dallas, Stephen J. Belli of Dallas and John Anthony Belli of Seattle; two other daughters, Dr. Therese Ann West of Chester, Pa., and Suzanne Marie Horn of Dallas; and numerous grandchildren.Memorials may be made to the Southwestern Medical Foundation, the Dallas Opera or the Dallas Arboretum.  Continue reading...

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