The Society

In memoriam: Prof. Tobias Welte

In memoriam: Prof. Tobias Welte - article image

19 March, 2024 

Authors: Professors Monika Gappa, Klaus Rabe and James Chalmers

Tobias Welte (7 July, 1959 – 10 March, 2024), a visionary in the field of respiratory health and a cherished colleague and friend, departed from this world unexpectedly after a short period of severe illness, leaving behind a legacy that will resonate within the European Respiratory Society (ERS) community and beyond for years to come.

Tobias dedicated his life to the pursuit of excellence in pulmonary, intensive care and infectious diseases medicine, embodying the roles of a respiratory and infectious diseases clinical specialist, intensivist, mentor, networker and fearless advocate. As the Director of the Department of Pulmonology and Infectious Diseases at Hannover Medical School, Tobias demonstrated unparalleled leadership and commitment to advance patient care and scientific knowledge, and to support respiratory medicine at every possible level. He was co-founder and board member of the Executive Board of the German Centers for Lung Research (Deutsches Zentrum für Lungenforschung, DZL) and from the beginnings of this large federal research initiative, a strong and charismatic leader of the Hannover center BREATH. He was President of the German Society for Pulmonology (DGP) and the German Sepsis Society, and board member of the Global Sepsis Alliance. He contributed extensively to clinical research in respiratory infections as well as numerous national and international guidelines. He (co-)authored 925 Medline-indexed publications with 38700 citations in Web of Science, leading to an H-index of 87, as well as numerous medical textbooks.

Throughout his career, Tobias made significant contributions to ERS for more than three decades, where he served in various leadership capacities, including ERS President from 2018 to 2019. He was also President of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) in 2019. His remarkable professional life was marked by his unwavering dedication to advocacy, innovation, inclusivity and collegiality. Tobias’s impact on respiratory health was globally recognised, earning him prestigious accolades such as the ERS Sadoul Lecture Award in 2023 and the Balzan Award in 2019 together with Werner Seeger, Erika von Mutius and Klaus F. Rabe.

Tobias’s curiosity and willingness to swim against the tide were evident in his approach of challenging problems and pioneering new solutions, pushing boundaries and inspiring others to do the same. His inclusivity and openness to diverse perspectives fostered a culture of collaboration and innovation, stimulating the field as a whole, and empowering individuals from all walks of life. Tobias leaves an outstanding legacy as a mentor to many in the field of respiratory medicine and science.

Beyond his professional achievements, Tobias was also beloved for his extensive knowledge in many areas outside of medicine, as a lover of the arts, (not to forget football…), for his humanity, his warmth, generosity and vibrant storytelling (in professional presentations and in private). His passion for fellowship and community was evident in the way he forged connections; he was a man who was present in meetings and informal dinners alike. Tobias valued and fostered connections that transcended professional boundaries.

As we mourn the loss of Professor Tobias Welte, we also celebrate his enduring spirit and remarkable contributions to the discipline of pulmonary medicine. His path within the ERS and beyond and his steadfast dedication to raising the voice for advancing patient care and lung science have left an indelible mark on the field.

Tobias’s legacy will continue to inspire future generations of pulmonologists and researchers as we carry forward the mission to which he dedicated his life. The American Thoracic Society (ATS) and American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST), alongside the ERS and the broader scientific community, extend their deepest sympathies to his family, friends, and all who were fortunate enough to know him.

Tobias has left this world far too soon, and with a sad irony for a pulmonologist to have died from lung fibrosis. However, his impact and dedication will likely be felt for generations of respiratory clinicians and researchers to come. May his memory encourage colleagues around the world to follow his example.