Dr. James J. Mezhir, 42, of Coralville, Iowa, passed away Feb. 3, 2016, after a nearly two-year battle with gastric cancer at University of Iowa Hospital and Clinic.
Born June 28, 1973, in Niagara Falls, New York, he was the son of James A. Mezhir and Virginia (Calvano) Nanula.
He and his wife, Priya George Mezhir, have two young daughters, Malinee and Anjali.
Mezhir's journey to becoming a physician is a unique experience in that he was a 25-year survivor of cancer. When he was a teenager, Mezhir was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after undergoing a Whipple procedure for bile duct obstruction. He underwent 12 months of chemotherapy and had been cancer free since that time.
Being cured of cancer is what drove Mezhir toward caring for cancer patients and into the research field. He wanted to show children diagnosed with this disease there is a future and life after cancer.
Mezhir attended medical school at the State University of New York in Buffalo, and he completed his residency at the University of Chicago under the training of Drs. Mitchell Posner and Jeffrey Matthews, at which time he completed two years of dedicated basic science research in the laboratory of Dr. Ralph Weischselbaum.
Mezhir continued his training as a fellow in surgical oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, where he worked closely with Dr. Ron DeMatteo and Dr. Murray Brennan. Mezhir was recruited to the University of Iowa in 2010, where he became a valued member of the division of surgical oncology and endocrine surgery in the department of surgery.
As a surgical oncologist, his primary clinical practice was in the treatment of pancreatic cancer and other GI cancers. He collaborated with many basic scientists and clinicians in multiple disciplines in an effort to advance the field of pancreatic cancer research. Through his laboratory efforts, which focused on elucidating the complex biology of pancreatic and gastric cancer, Mezhir made novel discoveries in the biology of pancreatic and gastric cancer that will continue to have important translational implications that will eventually lead to novel therapies for these GI malignancies.
Mezhir had over 50 peer-reviewed publications and was on the editorial board of six surgical and scientific journals. Through these activities and his publications, he made a substantive impact on the medical literature. His laboratory was supported by an American Surgical Association Foundation fellowship, the Department of Surgery, and the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. Grateful patients and their families also generously supported Mezhir's research endeavors.
Mezhir was named as one of Castle Connelly's America's Top Doctors in 2015; he was a nominee for the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award in 2014; he received the Teacher of the Year Award from the General Surgery Residents at the University of Iowa, as well as the Teacher of the Year Award from the General Surgery Medical Students at the University of Iowa in 2012. Prior to his years at the University of Iowa, he received awards for Most Outstanding Clinical Research at the Charles Huggins Research Competition in Chicago in 2004 and Most Outstanding Surgical Research at the Chicago Surgical Society in 2005.
He will be deeply missed by his peers, trainees and patients.
His family includes his wife, Elizabeth "Priya" Mezhir, their two daughters, Malinee Grace and Anjali Mary; mother, Virginia (Savino) Nanula of Grand Island; father, James (Patricia) Mezhir of Lewiston; brothers, John (Jennifer) Mezhir of Grand Island, and Timothy Mezhir and Daniel Mezhir of Lewiston; sister, Brittany Mezhir of Lewiston; niece, Kate Mezhir; nephews, Jack and Max Mezhir; stepbrothers, Philip (Theresa) Nanula, Steven (Dana) Nanula, Paul (Karen) Nanula and Anthony (Holly) Nanula); Priya's family - her parents, George Joseph and Mary George of Burr Ridge, Illinois; sister, Reena (Brian) Trushel, of Cleveland; and brother, Vinith George of Burr Ridge, Illinois.
James will be remembered by many for his dedication to his strong Christian faith, career, compassion, sincerity and love for his family.
A memorial service will be held at a later date to be announced.