Depage, Antoine
(1862-1925)
   One of the major figures in medicine in the early 20th century, Antoine Depage was born in Boitsfort on 28 November 1862. A member of a family of locally prominent merchants and farmers, he grew up in a free-spirited environment in a home on the edge of the Forêt de Soignes. Sent to the Athenée at Tournai, he was an unruly student and remained a poor pupil when he first entered the university, where he chose medicine as his field of study in responding to a query about plans by stating that he wished to enroll in the faculty whose registration costs were lowest. Depage developed an enthusiasm for surgery in the course of his studies and earned a degree with highest honors in 1887. By 1904, he had secured a post as chief of surgery at the Saint-Jean hospital, and, in 1912, he was named doctor of clinical surgery at the Saint-Pierre hospital.
   At the same time, he worked to promote greater contacts among members of the profession. In 1892, he helped found the Société belge de Chirurgie and, in 1902, the Société internationale de Chirurgie, an organization for which he would serve as secretary-general and for which he organized the first three congresses at Brussels in 1905, 1908, and 1911. Disturbed by the lack of professional training in nursing in Belgium, Depage and his wife created a school for nurses in 1907 and secured the appointment of Edith Cavell as its director. He also founded an institute of surgery, employing the latest in methods and materials, at place Georges Brugmann in Ixelles.
   At the outbreak of World War I, Queen Elisabeth asked him to organize a mobile field hospital, which barely operated owing to the rapid defeat of the Belgian forces. Making his way out of occupied Brussels in November 1914, he set up a hospital in Calais, France, and, later, despite vehement opposition from military authorities, he founded the Hospital of the Ocean (Hôpital de l'Océan) at De Panne, a modern, fully equipped hospital close to the front that included dental and prosthetic services and a modern biology laboratory.
   Following the war he won international plaudits for his efforts. Dynamic, progressive, stubborn, and an avowed risk taker, Depage continued his efforts to improve delivery of services, adopt up-to-date equipment and practices, and promote research by means of an active writing and speaking campaign during the postwar years, a period when his surgical work took second place to his advocacy efforts.
   Depage also served as a communal councillor in Brussels, beginning in 1908. He fought for better health care services, including helping to draft La Construction des hôpitaux, a critical study on the need for more and improved facilities in the metropolitan area. He died at 63 following an operation at The Hague, Netherlands, on 10 June 1925. Depage's wife Marie drowned in the sinking of HMS Lusitania (7 May 1915) while returning from a Belgian relief effort campaign in the United States.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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