Dr. Duerksen passed away February 20, 2018
May 17, 1955 – February 20, 2018
On March 3, 2018, over 400 mourners gathered at Montecito Memorial Park in Loma Linda to celebrate the unique and incredible life of Steven Edward Duerksen. For hours following the formal service, stories were shared, primarily from coworkers of the 2 hospitals where he spent most of his career: InterCommunity in Covina, CA and LLU/Murrieta, where he initially headed up the cardiac anesthesia department. Many remarked as to his exemplary clinical skills, but it was his human interest and individual caring that made him so memorable. A surgeon shared that Steve, told that a post-op patient was terminal, stayed all night with the family because he felt they needed & deserved a physician with them when their loved one died. A nurse who was a single mother raising 3 children, had a plumbing emergency, and knowing Steve was a master of all skills, called him when the plumbers said they couldn’t fix the problem for 3 days. When Steve realized it was beyond his capacity to repair, bribed the plumbers to fix the problem that night and paid for the entire repair. An orderly shared stories of Steve befriending everyone in the OR & organizing weekend hiking expeditions. He was generous with his time, talents, friendship and resources. He had a wild sense of humor, entertaining staff & patients alike. He kept everyone laughing, but also challenged changes in medicine he found ridiculous and ruinous to the profession. Administration did not always find him quite so amusing!
Ellsworth Wareham (SM42) told his aunt (Lolita Hirst wife of AE “Bud” Hirst SM42) “Your brother (Merlyn Duerksen SM54) is a great anesthesiologist, but Steve is a little bit better. I’m always glad when I see he’s scheduled on my cases.” It was generally known that if anyone could get the sickest patient through a surgery, it was Steve. He honed those skills early through his years of experience as a paramedic on the streets of LA, intubating and inserting IV’s in the field in the most difficult of circumstances and years of service with LA County Search & Rescue. Still, when he desired even more trauma experience, he flew to a well known medical center on the East coast, and without any formal permission, walked into their emergency room’s “gun & knife club” and “worked” 24/7 for a week. He seemed to know what he was doing, so unbelievably, no one questioned his presence!
Steve first became involved in mission work with trips to Borneo with Upper Columbia Academy. He felt his skills assisting with the building projects were underutilized, so before the next trip spent a few days with a dentist learning the craft, bought his own set of dental tools, and on subsequent trips, did restorative dental work. He made many mission trips to the Philippines as an anesthesiologist. One video shows him arriving at a hospital without any working anesthesia machines. He is rummaging through cupboards, cutting up tubes and “fix anything initiative”, and singlehandedly was able to get the machines in working order again. Everywhere he went in the world, he made life long friends. When asked for money on the streets, he’d reply “No, but I’ll take you out to dinner” – and did!
His private life was equally interesting: he owned a farm in Nebraska, an avocado farm in Temecula, over 40 antique John Deere caterpillar tractors. He was a renascence man: master welder, could build and repair anything, loved nature, respected & guarded all life. He was always up for wild adventures in the mountains, hiked Mt. Whitney on a whim in 3 1/2 hours; refused to ever get a permit for any hike and could tell hilarious stories of evading rangers as a result!
A bright light of joy has gone out in this world, much too soon; we look forward to that glorious reunion. Just listen for a group of people belly laughing in heaven, and that’s where you’ll find Steve.
(Source: Family of Dr. Duerksen; photo: LLU Medical Center–Murrieta)