Dr. Robert A. Abraham, 79, Hopkins expert in obstetrical anesthesia

February 10, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dr. Robert A. Abraham, a physician who directed Johns Hopkins Hospital's obstetrics anesthesia program and was a leader in childbirth safety, died of an apparent brain hemorrhage Feb. 3 at his Lutherville home. He was 79.

Born in Mahanoy City, Pa., and raised in Reading, Pa., he earned his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Franklin & Marshall College and his medical degree from the University of Maryland. As part of his duties as a resident at what is now University of Maryland Medical Center, he delivered babies in West Baltimore homes.

In 1952, Dr. Abraham established a general medical practice in Towson. He also was the federal civil service medical examiner at Fort Holabird and civilian flight surgeon for the Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River.

By the end of the 1950s, he was taking courses in anesthesia at Johns Hopkins and the old Baltimore City hospitals - at the latter, studying under Dr. Peter Safer, who developed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Dr. Abraham then became attending anesthesiologist at the old Hospital for the Women of Maryland in Bolton Hill.

From 1962 to 1975, when he was recruited by the Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine, Dr. Abraham taught at New York's Albany Medical College and practiced at the A.N. Brady Maternity Hospital and Albany Medical Center, where he was also director of obstetrical anesthesia.

"The two things that were the most important to him were that he never lost a mother's life in delivering the anesthesia, and he never had a lawsuit of any kind filed against him," said a son, Howard Auman Abraham of Rosedale, a physician's assistant.

As an 8-year-old, Dr. Abraham developed an eye disease that left him legally blind in one eye. Despite this, he administered spinal needles using his good eye and his tactile sense.

From 1975 until his 1987 retirement, Dr. Abraham was an associate professor in anesthesiology and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Hopkins School of Medicine. Medical colleagues said he was a local pioneer in the administration of epidural anesthesia during childbirth.

"His morning conferences were famous," said Dr. Andrew P. Harris, a Johns Hopkins physician and Republican state senator for Baltimore County. "He used the Socratic method, asking questions as he taught. He emphasized meticulous patient care and safety."

He also recommended the use of regional anesthesia, rather than general anesthesia, during Caesarean deliveries.

"Before it was trendy, he was totally concerned at making the patient safe," said Dr. Harris, a former student of Dr. Abraham's. "He really was a very modest man, but he was a giant in his field."

For three years, the Hopkins anesthesia residents named him teacher of the year. He was also awarded a bronze plaque as teacher of the year in 1984 by members of the department of anesthesiology and critical care medicine. In 2001, the Hopkins anesthesiology department created an annual endowed lectureship in his name.

Dr. Abraham was the author of numerous scientific papers and belonged to many professional societies.

In retirement, he became an accomplished cook. "His cookbook library became nearly as large as his medical one," said his son. "He shopped frequently at the Mars market near his home and talked to just about everyone at the store."

His wife of 49 years, the former June Lazzell, died in 2000.

Services will be private.

Survivors also include two other sons, Dr. John David Abraham of Albany, N.Y., an orthopedic surgeon, and Mark A. Abraham of Satellite Beach, Fla.; a daughter, Margaret A. Jones of Wilmington, Del.; a brother, Dr. James Abraham of Sinking Springs, Pa.; a sister, Jane Kerper of Wyomissing, Pa.; and five grandchildren.

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