Dr. Robert C. Abrams, 83, orthopedic surgeon, teacher

November 24, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Robert C. Abrams, an orthopedic surgeon and teacher who served as medical director of Kernan Hospital for 25 years, died Wednesday of a hemorrhage at his Northwest Baltimore home. He was 83.

Dr. Abrams, whose specialty was orthopedic pediatrics, began his association with Kernan in 1950, which he described in his recent memoirs as a "sleepy 85-bed facility on the edge of Leakin Park."

L He was named medical director in 1972 and retired last year.

"When he started at the hospital, most of the patients were children suffering from polio," said Dr. Kenneth Spence of Columbia, who succeeded him as medical director. "Later, during the 1960s, he treated many patients with cerebral palsy and, in recent years, those who suffered from scoliosis or curvature of the spine.

"He was a quiet, soft-spoken man who never raised his voice and personified what we call the 'Kernan family,' " Dr. Spence said.

He said that Dr. Abrams was a familiar figure at the hospital, dressed in his white coat, "walking the halls, talking to people. He touched many, many lives."

"Half of the life of Kernan bore the mark of Bob Abrams," said Jim Ross, chief executive officer of Kernan and Deaton hospitals. "He was extremely devoted to the mission of the hospital and its children and residents whom he delighted in teaching."

"He had an unbelievably keen intellect and a remarkable recall of case details," Dr. Spence said. "In all likelihood, he helped train more orthopedic surgeons in the country than anyone else. It has be one of his major gifts."

One of Dr. Abrams' interests was the club foot. While in Wales, he learned the Evans procedure that helped sufferers of the malady. "It amounts to shortening one side of the foot," explained Dr. Robert Zadek, an orthopedic surgeon and longtime colleague.

Dr. Abrams introduced the procedure in the United States and performed it in over 135 surgeries. He taught it to residents at Johns Hopkins and Kernan hospitals.

Born and raised on Eutaw Place, the son of a physician, Dr. Abrams was a 1931 graduate of City College. He earned a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1935 and his medical degree in 1939. He completed internships at Hopkins and Union Memorial hospitals before he enlisted in the Navy in 1941 during World War II.

He served as a medical officer in the Pacific and while treating casualties after the bloody battle of Peleliu, he was assigned to orthopedic cases.

"I was told I volunteered," he recalled years later.

He later worked in the Naval Hospital in Oakland, Calif., where he treated amputees and other wounds of the extremities.

After he was discharged with the rank of commander in 1947, he completed residencies in orthopedics at Northwestern University and Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, and a residency in children's orthopedics at Kernan in 1950.

Dr. Abrams left private practice in 1957 to become chief of pediatric orthopedics at Hopkins medical school and held the position until 1977.

Early in his career, he developed an intense interest in the orthopedic aspects of polio.

"I probably saw more polio than anybody in the city," he wrote in the memoir. "I still get calls from ex-residents who see an occasional polio case and don't know what to do with it. They pick my brain."

After he retired, Dr. Abrams volunteered at Kernan, helping to establish an archive at the hospital, which was founded in 1895. He also was a docent at the Carroll Mansion on Hopkins' Homewood campus and worked in the archives of the Jewish Museum of Baltimore.

His marriages to the former Dorothy Weatherington and Janice Piven ended in divorce.

He was a member of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, where a memorial service was held Sunday.

He is survived by a son, Michael A. Abrams II of Fort Collins, Colo.; three daughters, Janet A. Bachur and Karen A. Mallonee, both of Baltimore, and Susan A. Merritt of Gaithersburg; a sister, Sally Allinson of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.

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Pub Date: 11/24/98

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