Dr. Mary Stevens, rheumatologist

September 16, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Dr. Mary Betty Stevens, whose pioneering research and treatment brought relief to sufferers of lupus, arthritis and other connective tissue diseases, died Tuesday from complications of a stroke at Stella Maris Hospice. She was 65.

Dr. Stevens, a rheumatologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine was also the director of the department of rheumatology at Good Samaritan Hospital.

Through her research, she sought to discover the link between rheumatic diseases, genetic factors and the environment.

Lupus, known formally as systemic lupus erythmatosus, was discovered in 1895 by Sir William Osler, who was chief of medicine at Hopkins Hospital. It is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the skin, joints, kidneys, nervous system and other organs.

"She was among the first to use chemo-therapeutic agents to manage life-threatening lupus and this treatment is now standard," said Dr. Bevra Hannahs-Hahn, professor of medicine and chief of rheumatology at the UCLA School of Medicine.

"She was early in defining some of the genes that confer susceptability to lupus and the various subsets that require different treatment," Dr. Hannahs-Hahn said.

Dr. Stevens believed in the team approach, now known as collaborative medicine, in working with patients. She would assemble experts in orthopedics, rehabilitation, and physical and occupational therapy as well as social workers and nurse practitioners to resolve a case.

Dr. Carol Johns, who has been at Hopkins since 1946 and is an associate professor of medicine, said, "She would bring together a diversity of staff from many disciplines, and really defined patient treatment as being much more than just treating those with disease. She was a beautiful example of how medicine should be practiced."

Known as "Marty," Dr. Stevens was nearly 6 feet tall. She was recalled by colleagues as an imposing but gentle woman.

"Her deep voice sounded as though you were listening to a wonderful authority, and you were," Dr. Johns said, "but she didn't overwhelm you. She really had a light touch."

Dr. Eileen "Patty" Vining, a pediatric neurologist at Hopkins Hospital since 1972, was a freshman at Vassar College when she met Dr. Stevens, who was visiting the campus. She recalled being impressed with both Dr. Stevens' devotion to medicine and deep affection for Hopkins.

"Her enthusiasm that afternoon caused me to make a decision to become a physician," Dr. Vining said. "She convinced us that there was no other place on earth to go to school."

"Her work was her whole life and she loved her students," Dr. Vining said. "She touched generations of doctors and shaped their approach to medicine. When she visited patients, and they adored her, she would take along students to show them how to deal with them."

In 1975, the Arthritis Center at Hopkins opened in collaboration with Good Samaritan and the University of Maryland hospitals.

Dr. Victor McKusick, a Hopkins professor of medical genetics, was head of the department of medicine when he named Dr. Stevens to chair the division of rheumatology in 1975. It was the first time a woman was appointed to head a division.

"It never entered my mind that I was doing something revolutionary," Dr. McKusick said. "Sex had nothing to do with it. She was the logical person to step into the role."

Shortly before Dr. Stevens died, Dr. Hannahs-Hahn wrote her a letter. "You are the best physician I have ever known . . ." she wrote. "You are the reason I am a rheumatologist . . . the reason dozens of people are rheumatologists. Your legacy is immeasurable. It flows on through all of your students into our students and on into theirs.

"And that is only part of your immortality. There are all of the thousands of patients who are here and more comfortable because of you."

She was born and reared in Cambridge, N.Y., and was a 1948 graduate of Vassar. She graduated from the Hopkins medical school in 1955, served her internship and residency there and was appointed an instructor in 1960.

She was a master in the American College of Rheumatology and the American College of Physicians, and had written more than 130 articles and book chapters. The Lupus Foundation recently established the Mary Betty Stevens Research Fund in her honor.

Graveside services will be held today in Granville, N.Y.

There are no survivors.

Memorial donations may be made to the Gift for Rheumatology Research, or the Mary Betty Stevens Endowment Fund, c/o Debby Lawrence, suite 507, Morgan Building, 5601 Loch Raven Blvd., Baltimore 21239.

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