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David Heilig, DO '44, MsC (Ost.), FAAO 
125 Years Through 125 Stories

As told by Alexander S. Nicholas, DO ’75, FAAO dist., Professor and Chair, Department of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine

Legendary PCOM professor David Heilig, DO '44, MsC (Ost.), FAAO”Dr. Heilig was my colleague and my mentor. But when I met him for the first time, I was in seventh grade in my T-shirt and tighty-whities, waiting to get my physical for football. Dr. Heilig told me to turn my head to the side and cough. … Basically, because of my father [Nicholas S. Nicholas, DO, FAAO], I grew up with him. He was a really important figure in our lives, kind of like a member of the family. But I could never call him Dave; it was ‘Dr. Dave’ or ‘Doc Dave.’ … I didn’t see him much while I was in medical school. But when my father was hired full-time to chair what’s now the OMM department, the first thing he did was hire Dr. Heilig as his vice chair. That was 1974. And in 1977, I joined the department full-time: it was my father, Dr. Heilig and me. … My father was a very social, extroverted guy—he was a volcano. And if Dr. Heilig had been like him, it wouldn’t have worked. They were opposites; they blended perfectly together. Dr. Heilig was a tectonic plate that moved very quietly. … He was one of the most intelligent, widely educated men I’ve ever met. He was a writer. He could paint and sculpt. He played the cello and bass violin. He was a football player and a diver on the swim team at Swarthmore College. … Dr. Heilig was probably the most deeply thinking osteopathic physician, as well as osteopathic manipulative medicine physician, teaching osteopathic principles and practice. … He was a gentleman and a gentle man—a Quaker, a very spiritual man. I never heard him say anything loud or nasty about anybody. He stood up for his beliefs very strongly, but he did it in a way that was kind and well-thought-out. … Dr. Heilig was what the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator would call an advocate. He helped everybody—he’d put his hands on the students’ hands and take them through the maneuvers. … My father used to say that Dr. Heilig was the greatest manipulative tactician he’d ever seen. And my father was pretty good. … When Dr. Heilig retired, I think that was the only time the American Academy of Osteopathy honored someone with an entire day of lectures, just on him. He was loved by the entire osteopathic profession.”

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About Digest Magazine

Digest, the magazine for alumni and friends of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, is published by the Office of Marketing and Communications. The magazine reports on osteopathic and other professional trends of interest to alumni of the College’s Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) and graduate programs at PCOM, PCOM Georgia and PCOM South Georgia.