In memoriam Professor Kai-Håkon Carlsen: a tribute from the ERS community

In memoriam Professor Kai-Håkon Carlsen: a tribute from the ERS community - article image

Professor Kai-Håkon Carlsen from Oslo, Norway sadly died at the age of 75 years on the morning of 15 September, 2021, with his wife Karin and his daughters Oda and Eira at his side. Since the early summer of 2021 he was confronted with an unfavourable diagnosis, which he confronted with typical courage.

Kai-Håkon has been an active member from the onset of the European Respiratory Society (ERS). He had a profound impact and active role in science, education and leadership in Norway, within the European society and in the international paediatric respiratory community. His achievements and contributions to pediatric lung science, sports medicine and allergy could fill a book. He was a one-person, complete “center of excellence”- a visionary, collaborator in science, communicator and a supporter of young and old colleagues. He was one of the people who gave our often hectic and demanding work a friendly, human face and was an example of inspiring leadership, with a rare combination of constant good temper, modesty, diplomacy, stimulating optimism and effective commitment, hard to match by anyone and exceeded by no-one.

His career started in the 70s at Voksentoppen, formerly a centre for Asthma and Allergy in the hills of Oslo, where he developed his interest in bronchiolitis, asthma, lung function, allergy, exercise-induced asthma, and asthma in infants, children and in skiing athletes. The effects of environmental factors like car traffic and tobacco smoke were also included in his studies.

He became Professor of Paediatrics and Paediatric Respiratory Medicine and Allergology at Oslo University Hospital, Rikshospitalet, Dept of Paediatrics, and was Professor of Sports Medicine at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences. Research had a prominent place in his department which resulted in a large list of research projects and successfully defended PhDs.

Kai-Håkon has written more than 300 scientific articles, and more than 30 books or book chapters, many of which in collaboration with his wife Prof. Dr. Karin Lødrup Carlsen.

For many years, he was the Medical Consultant for the Norwegian Skiing Team and investigated the role of cold-induced bronchial obstruction in athletes. His rigorous examination of the elite skiers made it possible to identify the pathophysiological mechanisms and to start appropriate treatment.

He served as Head of the Paediatric Assembly within ERS and as Chair of the ERS School, which led to the initiative of an ERS educational journal that was realised during his term under the name Breathe. He galvanised the ERS School, and set it well on the road to becoming the really effective educational body it is today. He organised many symposia, seminars and postgraduate courses. He presented the ‘Jean-Claude Yernault Lecture’ in 2008.

Engagement for patients was important for Kai-Håkon. He was elected chair of the European Lung Foundation and became an active member of the Tobacco Action Committee of the American Thoracic Society.

He was associate paediatric editor of the European Respiratory Journal, Clinical Respiratory Journal and Acta Paediatrica and has been a member of the editorial boards of Allergy, Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, Pediatric Pulmonology and, recently, member of the international advisory board of Lancet Respiratory Medicine.

He has been center coordinator in Oslo for the GA2LEN network of centers of Excellence (EU FP6) and the MeDALL project (EU FP7).

After his retirement in 2016 he remained active in research and, being a gifted speaker, was regularly invited to congresses and symposia to present the latest research of himself and Karin. Their team initiated the Nordic collaboration PreventADALL to examine the possibility of prevention of food allergy and atopic eczema by topical and oral interventions. This population-based study has already resulted in 14 publications and two PhD theses, with more coming.

At ERS he will be remembered for his excellent work as teacher and scientist, and for his groundbreaking work and efforts for the ERS, the ERS Paediatric Assembly, the ERS School and the European Lung Foundation.

He made so many scientific and clinical contributions, but it is as a friend that Kai-Håkon will be most missed. He was the most modest of persons, and wore his colossal distinctions lightly. He was treasured as a warm personality, an amiable, charming and friendly person, full of humour, interested in art, music, other people and, above all, in his family. He was a true academic giant, but an even greater human being.