My father, Ed Lowenstein, turns 75 today.
In many ways, he has lived a remarkable life. I will be communicating my thoughts to him personally and thus will focus this post on his professional life.
Separated from his parents when he was not even 5 years old, he and my uncle were part of the Kindertransport, a British government that gave refuge to 10,000 German, Austrian, Czech and Polish Jewish children during the Nazi era.
Very fortunately, Dad and Ralph were reunited with their parents in the United States after the war began.
After growing up in Cincinnati, Dad attended the University of Michigan Medical School, graduating 50 years ago next month, and then starting what has become nearly a half-century career as a cardiac anesthetist based primarily at Massachusetts General Hospital.
For his research contributions, Dad is known as the “Father of Cardiac Anesthesia.” But he is also known for the hundreds of residents he helped train and whose careers he helped advance. Among his most illustrious former mentees are some of his closest friends like Warren Zapol, former chairman of Mass. General’s anesthesia department and a highly renowned researcher in his own right.
Dad’s accomplishments have been recognized both by his being named the Henry Isaiah Dorr Professor of Anesthesia and by having a chair named after him at Harvard Medical School.
During the past few years, he has started to look back on his illustrious career, on the history of the department, and at the life and accomplishments of Dr. Henry Beecher, the man who initially recruited Dad to come to Mass. General.
Two anthologies that Dad has co-edited and contributed several chapters to have resulted.
The first, This Is No Humbug: Reminiscences of the Department of Anesthesia at the Massachusetts General Hospital, chronicles the department’s activities, accomplishments and shortcomings of the department to which Dad belonged for many years.
The second, Enduring Contributions of Henry K. Beecher to Medicine, Science, and Society, takes stock of the man who recruited Dad and many others to Mass. General and who made major contributions to the understanding of pain, to medical ethics and as an administrator.
A major point in This Is No Humbug that the department had a period of enormous productivity, innovation and groundbreaking accomplishment in the area of cardiac anesthesia under the dynamic and freewheeling leadership of Myron Laver.
To its credit, the collection does note that gender made a difference; many women felt they had to produce more evidence of a project’s ultimate success before getting approval to move forward than their male colleagues.
The anthology also notes that the department’s quality and output seemed to decline after Laver’s departure for Switzerland in the 70s.
The second collection has section on Beecher’s personal history, his contributions to the areas mentioned above and an assessment of his life’s work. In addition to his tremendous administrative skills, Beecher is impressive for having made a dent in several distinct areas as well as for having figured out how to simultaneously within and critique the system.
The book has poignant moments, too.
A boy from the heartland who married a high-society girl, Beecher was a festive soul who relished being chairman-Dad still talks about the hangover he had after their first meeting-and wilted in his latter years when not serving in that capacity.
The entries in both works vary in length, depth and quality. Some are more personal, while others are more professional in character.
All in all, though, the works are useful both as a collection of perspectives on a noteworthy time during an historic department as well as an insight into one of the men who played a key role in that change. Reading them helped me understand the passion that Dad brought to his work while my brothers and I were growing up, too.
Happy 75th Birthday, Dad!