Dr. A. Siebens, 74, swallowing disorder expert

February 04, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Arthur A. Siebens, a nationally known expert on swallowing disorders and rehabilitation who recently retired as director of rehabilitation at Johns Hopkins and Good Samaritan hospitals, died Jan. 28 of complications from cardiovascular disease at Good Samaritan Hospital.

The Roland Park resident was 74.

Since retiring from Hopkins last year, Dr. Siebens was director of pharyngology at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

In 1970, he became a professor of rehabilitation medicine and surgery at Johns Hopkins and established the department of rehabilitation medicine and surgery at Hopkins and Good Samaritan hospitals.

"Dr. Siebens built a strong rehabilitation program and was a leader in teaching, research and patient care," said Dr. Michael Johns, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

When Johns Hopkins Hospital established the nation's first swallowing center in 1981, Dr. Siebens went to work as a specialist there.

Dr. Siebens' work with the functionally disabled, in addition to swallowing disorders, included skeletal research in achondroplasia, a genetic disorder that causes dwarfism.

Impairments of swallowing may result from sensory loss in the mouth and throat or damage to the parts of the brain that govern swallowing. Dr. Siebens invented a "swallow-safe" diet for people who were so impaired.

"Swallowing is not an absolute," he told The Evening Sun in a 1981 interview. "It's like walking. Some do it with a limp, cane or crutches."

Colleagues have described him as an accomplished physician, innovative scientist and a man of tremendous enthusiasms.

Dr. Siebens became a patient in the department he created.

Said Dr. Richard Ross, dean emeritus and professor emeritus at Hopkins: "He was physically very strong, an excellent tennis player, but even when he was in the hospital and couldn't speak, he was very expressive, using his big, bushy eyebrows to communicate to let you know he recognized and understood you.

"He was a colorful, outspoken, fellow all right. Arthur's most admirable trait was his willingness to apply basic science to rehabilitation and medicine He was always of good spirit and had an inner fire and strength that he transmitted to patients."

Dr. William Zinkham, distinguished professor of pediatrics at Hopkins who had been a classmate of Dr. Siebens in medical school, said, "He was enough of an innovator that his approach was outside of traditional rehabilitation groups. He was always seeking new answers."

He was a member of a dozen medical societies and served on the editorial board of two medical journals.

He was appointed to study groups at the National Institutes of Health and the National Foundation and was the author of scores of articles for medical journals and textbooks.

A familiar figure in the halls of Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Siebens often was seen carrying his motorcycle helmet.

Fond of BMW motorcycles, Dr. Siebens commuted to work by motorcycle and last summer rode to a family gathering in New Hampshire. Other interests included building wooden clocks and choral singing.

Born in Atlanta, the son of a Presbyterian minister father and a mother who was French, Dr. Siebens spent much of his childhood in France. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1943 from Oberlin (Ohio) College and in 1947 his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins Medical School.

A Navy veteran, he was called back to service during the Korean War and worked at a Navy Hospital in St. Albans, N.Y., where he helped to establish one of the first cardiac catheterization laboratories. From 1948 to 1958, he taught physiology at the State University of New York, and before coming to Hopkins was director of a respiratory and rehabilitation center at the University of Wisconsin where he worked with polio patients.

A private graveside ceremony was held yesterday in Princeton, N.J. A memorial service is set for 4 p.m. March 8 at Turner Auditorium, 720 Rutland Ave.

He is survived by his former wife, the former Barbara Dutemple four sons, Daniel Siebens of Madison, Wis., Arthur W. Siebens of Washington, Christopher Siebens of South Orange, N.J., and David Siebens of Chapel Hill, N.C.; two daughters, Rebecca Siebens of Boston and Janine Siebens of Rileyville, Va.; a brother, Roland Siebens of Glen Ellyn, Ill.; and five grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Arthur A. Siebens Memorial Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine, 1620 McElderry St., Reed Hall, Baltimore 21205.

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