Sidney A. Fox ’19
Before Sidney Fox started practicing medicine, people with severely damaged eyes usually lost them. A Russian-Jewish immigrant who arrived in the United States when he was eight years old, Sidney Fox put his New York City practice on hold in 1942 to volunteer for military service. At his post in a West Virginia tertiary-care facility for severely wounded and disfigured servicemen, he developed a host of new surgical techniques and began a lifelong commitment to reconstructive ophthalmic surgery—an entirely new subspecialty.
In 1952 Fox published Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery, a landmark surgical text that he revised and republished five times before his death in 1983. He was on the faculty of the New York University School of Medicine and a consultant to many New York–area hospitals. His many honors included a fellowship with the American Medical Association and an honorary doctor of medical science degree from Brown, awarded in the same year the University Medical School graduated its first class. Fox remained in active practice, performing surgery into his eighties.
Donald Abrams ‘72
For much of the last two decades Donald Abrams, head of the hematology and oncology section of UC San Francisco’s Positive Health Program, has been at ground zero of the AIDS war. “As a gay man treating people with AIDS,” he says, “I have suffered an incredible amount of loss. There was a point where I had more friends who were dead or dying than my grandmother did.”
At the same time Abrams admits that his AIDS work has been the most exciting of his career. As the first researcher to describe what was then called ARC, or AIDS-Related Complex, Abrams helped lay the foundation for later research on AIDS treatment.
A 1977 graduate of Stanford Medical School, Abrams can still remember where he was when he heard the news that would change his life. In July 1981 he was driving to the airport to complete an oncology fellowship at the University of Seattle, when he heard a radio broadcast about an epidemic of cancer in gay men.
After returning to San Francisco, Abrams was asked by his friend and fellow oncologist, Paul Volberding, to begin working with patients suffering from the new disease. Simultaneously, Abrams remembered research he had done during his internal-medicine residency two years earlier with patients suffering from lymphadenopathy, or swollen lymph glands. Abrams began to wonder if the lymphadenopathy patients were the same people who had gone on, two years later, to develop Kaposi’s sarcoma. In a brilliant piece of medical detective work, Abrams began a research study that confirmed his suspicion, making the pioneering link.
Today, having published widely and received many awards for his work with AIDS patients, Abrams is onto a new research area: alternative medicine. He is conducting research into the use of marijuana in patients with HIV infection, hoping the drug can help such patients combat the dangerous weight loss that can accompany their infection.
Robert I. Parker ‘73, ‘76 M.D.
For Robert I. Parker the moment that defined his career took place in a Brown classroom. During his second year of medical school, a seven-year-old girl with leukemia spoke at a seminar he was taking called Special Topics in Hematology. She had already been through two remissions and two relapses, yet Parker was amazed.
“Her presence, her maturity in dealing with death just blew me away,” he recalls. “When I saw her I said, ‘I want to do that—I want to work with children like that.’ ”
Today, as director and founder of the department of pediatric hematology and oncology at the University Hospital and Medical Center of SUNY Stony Brook, Parker spends every day treating “children like that” for cancer and various blood disorders.
Parker, along with the three other doctors and four nurse practioners in his department, has one overarching goal: to make coping with cancer easier for children and their families. “Our only rule is that there are no rules,” he says. “I’ve even seen patients in the parking lot.”
After beginning his medical career in Providence , Parker became a staff fellow at the pediatric oncology branch of the National Cancer Institute, where he participated in extensive hematology research. But, he says, “I missed the kids and their families, the intensity of that relationship.”
At SUNY, Parker wears a multitude of hats, including teacher, researcher, administrator, and clinician. He also lectures around the world on bleeding problems in critically ill children and adults. But for him the heart of doctoring is the patients. “These are my kids,” he says. “I love every one of them.”
The feeling is often mutual. “Parker is the pediatric oncologist who diagnosed my four-year-old granddaughter with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 1997,” wrote Jack Sheibler ’50 in an e-mail to the BAM. “Since that time he has guided our entire family through the ordeal of watching this precious child face the rigors of cancer and chemotherapy. Our granddaughter, the toughest critic of all, has endured, due greatly to the advances in modern medicine to which [Parker] has contributed, and [she] has as much been strengthened by her trust in him and attachment to his gentleness and wonderful sense of humor…
“The man’s life and its impact on the world around him [make Parker] a shining example of a quintessential physician.”
Seth Berkley ’78, ’81 M.D.
Before seth berkley founded the international aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), the search for a vaccine was at a virtual standstill. Even though most scientists agreed that a vaccine provided the best hope of ending the epidemic, less than 1 percent of the world’s AIDS financing was being spent on vaccine research, with almost no focus on strains of the virus found in nonindustrialized countries.
In the four years that Berkley, an epidemiologist and international-health specialist, has headed IAVI, funding for vaccine development has tripled. Berkley now predicts that the world will have an AIDS vaccine in five to ten years.
Because 95 percent of new infections now occur in developing countries, Berkley believes that a vaccine must be developed for the strains found in those places. IAVI recently sponsored development of the first potential AIDS vaccine intended specifically for use in Africa. It was cleared for testing on humans in July.
Berkley began IAVI after living in Uganda and seeing firsthand how the disease was ravaging the country. “I realized that we were seeing the equivalent of the Black Plague of the twenty-first century,” he says. “History will judge whether the world has responded appropriately. From my perspective it has not.”
Alan Zametkin ’77 M.D.
It’s rare to find a single published study that has caused as much heated reaction as Alan Zametkin’s 1990 New England Journal of Medicine paper on hyperactivity in children and adults. To his supporters Zametkin, who in 1990 was an investigator at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), is the man who discovered that hyperactivity is a biological disorder diagnosable with medical imaging and easily treated with medications such as Ritalin. But to his detractors Zametkin, who is now a senior staff physician in the NIMH director’s office, is the ogre whose work has led directly to the overmedication of children by adults incapable of dealing with their rambunctious behavior.
One thing is certain: more than 3 million U.S. children now take Ritalin, twice as many as in 1990. Whether this is appropriate medicine or a national scandal will be settled only as the scientific work begun by Zametkin and his NIMH team continues to move toward definitive answers.
Augustus White III ’57
A world-renowned expert on the spinal cord, Augustus White III is the author of The Clinical Biomechanics of the Spine, the definitive handbook on the subject. Yet White, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School and the former orthopedic-surgeon-in-chief at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital, considers himself a clinician first and foremost.
“Helping people solve their problems, doing a surgery and having the privilege and satisfaction of seeing my patients cured and back to their normal lives is the most satisfying aspect of my career,” he says.
After earning his medical degree from Stanford, White became a U.S. Army surgeon in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star. After the Army, he earned a Ph.D. in orthopedic biomechanics at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. In 1984 White published Your Aching Back: A Doctor’s Guide to Relief based on the questions his patients had been asking him about their back problems.
A former Corporation trustee and fellow, White has chaired two blue-ribbon committees on race and minority life at Brown. The most recent, the Visiting Committee on Diversity, issued its report this spring.