Dr. Daniel G. Sapir, 67, kidney specialist, educator

July 30, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Daniel G. Sapir, a Baltimore kidney specialist, internist and medical educator whose career spanned nearly 40 years, died of cancer Sunday at his Ruxton home. He was 67.

Dr. Sapir, whose quick wit and easygoing manner belied his serious medical scholarship, combined the roles of clinician, researcher and hospital administrator. He preferred calling patients by their first name, and for them to do likewise with him.

Until receiving a diagnosis of cancer last year and retiring, he maintained his medical practice at Johns Hopkins at Green Spring in Lutherville.

Born in Brussels, Belgium, he spent his early years in Lodz, Poland, until leaving with his family on the eve of World War II. They settled in Queens, N.Y., in 1941.

A 1952 graduate of Forest Hills High School there, he earned his bachelor's degree in biology in 1956 from Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Dr. Sapir maintained a lifelong interest in Egyptology and had briefly considered entering the field before his family physician influenced his decision to become a doctor.

"I had never been to Baltimore before my interview at Hopkins," Dr. Sapir recalled recently. "It consisted of one question. One of the interviewers asked, `I see you're a graduate of Brown. Do you know the name of the street that leads to the bars in Pawtucket?' After I answered the question, they replied, `You're in.' "

"I started out to be a surgeon, but I got tired of standing around the operating room with a pair of retractors in my hand waiting for something to happen," Dr. Sapir said of abandoning surgery for nephrology, the study of the kidney.

After completing a residency in internal medicine in 1964 at Hopkins and a fellowship in nephrology from Tufts University in Boston in 1966, he returned to the Johns Hopkins Medical School, where he conducted research, taught and treated patients with kidney disease.

"In addition to becoming a superb physician and educator, Dr. Sapir did some of the classical studies on renal function and metabolism," said Dr. Oliver E. Owen of Gladwyne, Pa., a longtime friend and colleague who is a former professor and chairman of medicine at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

"His insightful creativity is fully reflected in his clinical science publications," Dr. Owen said. "His articles on renal metabolism will be listed among the classics in research accomplishments.

"His compassion augmented his willingness to help the suffering, both ambulatory individuals and those confined to home. He never deserted anyone he served because of progressive infirmities. Like Dr. William Osler, he was there to help the ill. He was a physician of the highest order."

Among his contributions, Dr. Sapir helped establish the dialysis unit at Union Memorial Hospital in 1970 and trained the staff that operated it.

"He had a commanding presence, and everyone concerned with the unit admired Dan. He was also a great moderator between Union Memorial and Hopkins," said Dr. Walter E. Dandy Jr., a retired Union Memorial anesthesiologist.

"He was always a special person, without a doubt, and one of a cadre of people with whom we have been blessed at Hopkins," said Dr. Victor McKusick, former professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and an internationally known geneticist.

Dr. Stanley Minken, professor of surgery at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, said, "He had a perceptive medical mind. He read constantly and was aware of where other disciplines had evolved. He broadened the concept of the internist beyond the routine and had a tireless devotion to his responsibilities."

Dr. William H.B. Howard, a Baltimore surgeon and longtime friend, said, "He always practiced medicine the way it should be practiced."

Dr. Sapir was chief of medicine at what is now the Wyman Park Medical Center from 1981 until he entered private practice at 9 E. Chase St. in 1984. He moved his practice to Johns Hopkins at Green Spring in 1994.

"He really went the extra step always in delivering patient care. He enjoyed his patients and was always very thorough when dealing with them," said Dr. W. Gordon Walker, former director of the renal division and a semiretired professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins. "And as an educator, he was one of our most outstanding teachers in the renal division."

In dealing with patients, Dr. Sapir combined a straightforward manner with a sense of humor and a comforting familiarity.

"When a new patient arrived, he always called them by their first name and insisted they do the same with him. He was always pleasantly outgoing and far from being a stuffy person," said Dr. C. Lockard Conley, retired senior clinician at Wyman Park Medical Center.

Dr. Sapir, whose casually tied bow ties contrasted with his conservative suits, was known for his quick wit. After suffering from alopecia and losing his hair, he bore a strong resemblance to Dr. Alex Haller, the pediatric surgeon at Johns Hopkins Children's Center who performed several surgical separations of Siamese twins.

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