Judah Folkman was too great a human being, too generous-spirited a physician, too humane a man, too brilliant a creative researcher in the field of angiogenesis and anti-angiogenesis for www.writingdoctor.typepad.com to let his death go unremarked on our pages.
Only 74, Dr Folkman was working on his computer in the Red Carpet Lounge of the Denver airport while waiting for his plane to Vancouver, where he was scheduled to give one of his unforgettable lectures. Suddenly he keeled over and died of an apparent heart attack.
He lived a long life--but not long enough. The son of a Reform rabbi in Columbus, Ohio, Judah Folkman went to Ohio State University when he was only 16 years old. There, he became the protege of Dr Robert Zollinger, an old-time surgical great. When he told Dr Zollinger that he wanted to go to medical school and become a surgeon, Zollinger put him in his surgical lab to do surgery on animals.
"You don't become a painter when you're 21," snorted Zollinger. "You don't become a composer when you're 21. You begin honing your skills when you're very young. And that's the way it should be with you and surgery."
So Judah Folkman began doing surgery in Zollinger's lab when he was 16. Four years later, when he applied to Harvard Medical School, Zollinger sent Folkman to Dr Francis Moore, the eminent chief of surgery at Boston's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital for an interview. Moore took Folkman into his lab and watched him operate on the animals there. Within minutes, Moore called the admission office to say, "Accept Folkman to the school. Now."
Thus, began his 40 years in Boston. Eleven years after begin graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1957, Folkman, at 34, became its youngest Professor of Surgery and Chair of the Department of Surgery at Boston's world famous Children's Medical Center. Director of the Vascular Biology Program at Children's Medical Center, Folkman's innovative research and unyielding determination led him to found the fields of angiogenesis and antiaangiogenesis despite the nay-saying of other physicians discounting his early theories.
His work on angiogenesis and antiangiogenesis lead to the development of many drugs that have saved the lives of patients with cancer and restored the vision of people with degenerative retinal diseases. Many cancer survivors are alive today, many victims of retinal disorders can see today because of Dr Folkman's dogged research and creativity.
But what the patients remember best is the kindness and communication of his patient care. He was always available, never cut patients short, listened, listened, and listened, and then advised and followed through afterwards. Dr Folkman found no detail too small, no chore too great a burden. He was never too busy for anyone's questions or problems.
Even though Judah Folkman had been on the short list for the Nobel Prize for several years, death beat the Nobel Committee to the punch.
We shall not see his like again. We can only hope that the countless medical students, residents, and researchers throughout the planet who were mentored and inspired by Judah Folkman, the man, and Dr Folkman, the great medical visionary and research activist, will burnish his memory by following in his very big footsteps.