Dr. David Nagey, 51, expert in high-risk pregnancies

April 23, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen and Diana K. Sugg | Frederick N. Rasmussen and Diana K. Sugg,SUN STAFF

Dr. David A. Nagey, director of the perinatal outreach division at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an internationally known expert on high-risk pregnancies, died of a heart attack Sunday after collapsing during a 5K fund-raising race at Indian Creek School in Crownsville. He was 51.

A resident of Sherwood Forest near Annapolis, Dr. Nagey was participating in an annual event that raises money for the independent school where his wife is development director.

Personable and committed, Dr. Nagey was revered as a teacher and physician by a generation of obstetricians. Public health advocates credit him with improving care for Maryland women.

"He was really one of a kind," said Dr. Russell Moy, who trained under Dr. Nagey and is director of the state health department's family health administration.

Dr. Nagey was born in Cleveland and spent his early years in Towson. He moved with his family to Indianapolis, where he attended high school but left in his sophomore year to enter Cornell University.

After a year, he transferred to Purdue University, earning a bachelor's degree in engineering sciences in 1969. He earned his doctorate in bioengineering from Duke University in 1974, and a year later, his medical degree.

At Duke, he also completed a four-year residency in obstetrics-gynecology in 1979, and a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine in 1981.

"His first delivery was on his 20th birthday, and it was a boy," said his wife of 30 years, the former Elaine Traicoff. "He liked obstetrics because it required a lot of fast thinking on your feet. There were always mysteries and problems to solve."

The couple met as undergraduates at Purdue.

Dr. Nagey was named assistant professor in OB-GYN in 1981 at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and later director of its division of perinatal medicine -- which specializes in high-risk pregnancies.

Since 1996, he had been director of the Perinatal Outreach Division of the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Johns Hopkins, and an associate professor in gynecology and obstetrics at its medical school.

Most of his time was not spent at the Hopkins complex in East Baltimore, but on the road traveling in his green Jeep Grand Cherokee to medical facilities in Havre de Grace, Salisbury, Hagerstown, Cheverly, Waldorf and Annapolis, where he regularly visited and consulted with patients who had at-risk pregnancies.

"Most of the women I see are already pregnant, though I occasionally see somebody to help plan a pregnancy, or after a bad outcome such as pre-term labor, to discuss what happened," he said in a 1998 interview with Change, a Johns Hopkins medical school publication.

Described as a "circuit rider with a medical bag," Dr. Nagey was supported in his on-the-road practice with a small grant from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which allowed him to meet with patients and their physicians, similar to an old-time doctor making a house call.

The object was to bring a high standard of care, especially to rural areas of the state, and make certain that patients were receiving proper prenatal care. He also worked with their physicians to help resolve problems that had arisen.

"It's been pretty clear for the last decade or more that the most important part of prenatal care is not the medical part but the social services part -- safe housing, food, counseling for drug use and spousal abuse," he said in the Johns Hopkins interview.

So they would never be out of touch, he made available to his patients two after-hours phone numbers and a toll-free pager number.

"He was always available, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In fact, he had worn out one Jeep Grand Cherokee driving all over Maryland. His work was his life," Mrs. Nagey said.

"He has been one of the most significant contributors to the care of mothers and children in the state. He was humble, compassionate and a true leader," said Dr. Harold E. Fox, professor and director of the Division of GYN-OB at the Hopkins medical school.

Louise M. Wulff, former assistant professor at the Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, who worked with him for years, said, "David had an extraordinary vision and incredible energy. He knew what had to be done to care for mothers and their children, and he rolled up his sleeves and did it."

A framed quote from musician Eubie Blake on the wall of his office seemed to define Dr. Nagey's life: "Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind. Listen to the birds. And don't hate no body."

He enjoyed sailing, woodworking and bird-watching.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Indian Creek School's Alumni Hall, 680 Evergreen Road, Crownsville.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sons, Stefan A. Nagey and Nicholas T. Nagey, both of Sherwood Forest; a brother, Robert C. Nagey of Ninole, Hawaii; and a sister, Barbara F. Nagey of Chicago.

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