P&S Journal: Fall 1994, Vol.14, No.3
A Doctor, a Patient, a Foundation Make Good Medicine Together
By Peter Wortsman
This is the story of a doctor, a patient, and a foundation coming together to advance clinical research and support the doctor in his work, thereby honoring him and the medical ideals he embodies.
Leslie Baer'63 is an anomaly, a scientist with a clinical bent and the ability to listen, to some a throwback to the academic M.D. of old, to others a role model for tomorrow's doctors. Combining clinical research and private practice, he elicits an uncommon devotion from his patients. To Deanna Levine, who has been seeing him for more than 20 years to control her hypertension, "He's the kind of doctor that's no longer supposed to exist, except in novels. To him, you are a person first and a patient second."
A recognized authority on sodium metabolism and hypertension therapies, Dr. Baer, associate professor of medicine at P&S, recalls the two motivating factors in his clinical propensity-an allergy to rats and a fascination with people-that led him to pursue clinical research. His model for early detection and treatment through Worksite Hypertension Control, a program he developed and refined at various sites over the last 20 years, has proved to be a highly successful and cost-effective method to prevent the major cardiovascular complications of hypertension.On the funding side of research is the Beatrice and Samuel A. Seaver Foundation, established by the late Mrs. Seaver, a private investor, in memory of her husband, a successful New York realtor. The foundation funds cardiovascular, cancer, and other research at several metropolitan New York medical centers and supports museums in the city.
Serendipity brought together the doctor, the patient, and the foundation. Hirschell Levine, the patient's husband and a long-time accountant, financial adviser, and friend to the Seavers, was named co-trustee of the Seaver Foundation with John Cohen, Mrs. Seaver's attorney. Mrs. Levine, who also had close personal ties with the Seavers, helped bring Dr. Baer's important work to the attention of her husband and Mr. Cohen.
The Beatrice and Samuel A. Seaver Foundation Comprehensive Hypertension Center at P&S, established at a dedication ceremony in 1993, offers pivotal support to Dr. Baer and his health care team, permitting them to maintain and promote the worksite program, improve the teaching of hypertension to medical and nursing students, prepare a formal hypertension syllabus, and continue clinical research, especially on the kidney and adrenal forms of hypertension. The Seaver Foundation gift is "manna from heaven" to Dr. Baer.
Dr. Baer is not only a P&S alumnus but also a native of Washington Heights who literally grew up in the shadow of the Medical Center and has taught and practiced, with only brief interruptions, at the Medical Center for the past 30 years.
After completing an internship and first-year medical residency at Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Baer pursued a fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health, studying the effects of lithium on the kidney and measuring total body sodium and potassium in circulatory disorders in studies at the National Heart Institute. Upon his return to P&S, he completed his medical residency and fellowship in hypertensive renal disease with Dr. John Laragh and later served as associate program director of the General Clinical Research Center.
"Some years ago," he recalls, "my daughter asked me if I ever regretted going into medicine. 'Never,' I said. It's the most interesting field because you combine the human element with the science. And it's always upbeat, because you're always trying to improve on someone's health or to learn something that may help."
Health and human welfare is a Baer family affair. His wife, Jeanne Willner Baer'64, is associate director of radiology at St. Luke's-Roosevelt. Their daughter is a public health student in Boston, one son is a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, and the other an administrator for a housing complex in Lower Manhattan for AIDS patients, indigents, and the mentally ill.
"The basic rule of medicine is that we can never do enough," Dr. Baer instructs medical and nursing students and residents. With the generous support of the Seaver Foundation, that ideal is being perpetuated at P&S.