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Obituaries > KAPLAN, ERVIN

Dr. Ervin Kaplan was chief of nuclear medicine at Hines VA Hospital for nearly four decades and invented a body imaging device to assist in diagnosing tumors, fractures and other medical conditions.

Dr. Kaplan, 93, who fought in the South Pacific in World War II, died of complications related to a recent bout with pneumonia on Monday, Nov. 14 [2011], in his Wilmette home.

While at Hines in the early 1970s, Dr. Kaplan invented a system for whole body imaging and count profiling with a scintillation camera. His 1974 patent became the subject of legal wrangling between him and the federal government after the U.S. Veterans Administration asserted patent ownership over the device.

Dr. Kaplan’s suit was successful at the district court level, but the decision was overturned by an appellate court in 1976 and sent back to the lower court. Dr. Kaplan then dropped the case “once he realized he didn’t have the resources to pursue it,” said his son John.

The son of Lithuanian immigrants, Dr. Kaplan was born in Independence, Iowa, and lived for a time on a farm. “He’d talk about his first pet, a chicken that he’d chase around until he got tired,” said his granddaughter, Tamara Spiewak.

Dr. Kaplan completed three years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before running out of money. He joined the Marines and was assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. Trained in jungle warfare, he fought in the battles of Guadalcanal and Bougainville.

Following his discharge, Dr. Kaplan returned to the University of Illinois on the GI Bill and received a master’s and a medical degree. He completed an internship at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago and his residency at Hines VA Hospital in Maywood.

In 1950, Dr. Kaplan joined the staff at Hines, where he went on to serve as chief of nuclear medicine until retiring in 1988. During that time, he also traveled the world speaking at medical conferences and was the author of dozens of research articles in medical journals.

“His research was cutting edge, and he worked with all the latest technology,” Spiewak said. “His computers were the size of a room.”

In retirement, Dr. Kaplan founded the official website of the U.S. Marine Raider Association & Foundation. He also was a master of ceremonies at the dedication of the Marine Memorial on Guadalcanal in 1995.

“It was important to him to share the story of the U.S. Marine Raiders,” his son said.

Although “a man of few words,” Dr. Kaplan enjoyed long, winding conversations with family and friends and was known for his often thoughtful and disarming questions, his family said.

“He was this brilliant, engaging person from a family of really big talkers, who had a wonderful way of just sitting back and letting others speak,” Spiewak said. “You just couldn’t have enough conversations with this man.”

Dr. Kaplan was married for 66 years to his wife, Lucille, who died in July.

Other survivors include another son, Robert; a sister, Jeanie Lovitt; a grandson; and two great-grandchildren.

Services have been held.