September 04, 2019

Renowned Radiologist and Humanitarian Dr. Helmut Diefenthal: 1924-2019

Dr. Diefenthal receiving the ACR Foundation Global Humanitarian Award at ACR 2015.

Renowned radiologist, humanitarian and educator Helmut Diefenthal, MD, HFACR, passed away June 30 at the age of 95. 

Dr. Diefenthal was the first individual winner of the American College of Radiology (ACR) Foundation Global Humanitarian Award in 2015 for his tireless efforts to provide radiological care for the less fortunate in developing countries in Africa and Asia.

In his early life, Diefenthal survived rampant anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany. He was eventually forced to work as a medic for the German army on the Russian front during World War II.

After the war, he earned his German medical degree. Diefenthal would earn a medical degree and radiology specialty degree in the United States. He practiced medicine on four continents during his lifetime.

Dr. Diefenthal completed a residency in radiology in the late 1960s at the University of Minnesota and served on staff there and at the VA hospital between 1973 and 1988. Immediately upon retirement, he and his wife moved to Moshi, Tanzania to work full-time at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC).

Dr. Diefenthal established a lasting legacy for radiological care in Africa. He founded the radiology department at KCMC and eventually developed both an assistant medical officer and a radiology residency program, the first of their kinds in Tanzania. These programs have produced well over 100 graduates that are providing radiological care throughout Tanzania and sub-Saharan Africa.

To ensure adequate funding for KCMC’s radiology department, Dr. Diefenthal, working with African friends and radiologist trainees, formed the East Africa Medical Assistance Foundation.

Based on the impact of his work and his dedication and commitment to the patients and students he served in Tanzania, Dr. Diefenthal was honored with the ACR’s Honorary Fellowship in 2003.

He was also awarded the Beclere medal by the International Society of Radiology in 2016. That same year, the Minnesota Radiological Society established a humanitarian award in his name.

Diefenthal is survived by his wife and their four children. A memorial service honoring his life and efforts is scheduled for January in Minneapolis.

His family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the East Africa Medical Assistance Foundation.