Mackenzie Walser

[ Age 82 ] Nephrologist and professor of medicine was known for his work in the dietary management of kidney disease.

November 02, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Dr. Mackenzie Walser, a noted nephrologist and professor of medicine who wrote widely on the nutritional management of kidney disease, died of a brain tumor Saturday at his Timonium home. He was 82.

Dr. Walser was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in New Canaan, Conn. He graduated in 1940 from Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1944, graduated from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1948 and completed his internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

From 1950 to 1952, he was an instructor and later assistant professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. In the Naval Reserve from 1952 to 1954, he was assigned to the Naval Medical Research Institute in Bethesda.

He was an investigator for three years at the National Heart Institute at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda before joining the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1957 as an assistant professor of pharmacology and experimental therapeutics, and assistant professor of medicine.

From 1970 until a few years ago, he was a professor of pharmacology, experimental therapeutics and medicine at Johns Hopkins. He remained there part time until this spring.

"His lifelong interest was the kidney and diseases of the kidney, and he was the central figure at Hopkins on renal failure," said Dr. Paul Talalay, professor of pharmacology at Hopkins and former department chairman.

"He spent much of the last 20 years of his career trying to alleviate the problems of people who suffered from renal failure and how their lives could be made more tolerable."

In the early 1970s, Dr. Walser was a co-developer and proponent of a restricted protein and phosphorus diet - mainly vegetarian - supplemented by medicine-like protein substitutes called keto acids that helped reduce the need for dialysis or transplants.

"This seems to be particularly true if we start early in renal failure. Dietary treatment promises to reduce the need for dialysis considerably," Dr. Walser told The Evening Sun in a 1984 interview.

Kidney patients were required to eat mostly vegetables and were limited to a single serving of meat a day. Additional fats and sugars in the diet were for energy and calories, while keto and amino acid substitutes helped their bodies manufacture protein.

"This diet helped prolong life substantially. This was the essence of his work and he had the courage to attack this problem," Dr. Talalay said. "He was a completely original thinker, and there was never an occasion when you didn't want to consult Mack. He was a very critical and unorthodox thinker. He wasn't always right, but he stirred up new ideas and possible solutions."

Dr. Thomas Pozefsky, a Baltimore internist and endocrinologist who collaborated with Dr. Walser before leaving Hopkins to enter private practice in 1975, recalled arriving at the medical institution in 1970 and Dr. Walser's kindness to him.

"When you're an outsider like I was, Hopkins can be a very imposing place. He took me under his wing and encouraged me. He was very important to me and my career," Dr. Pozefsky said.

He was a prolific contributor to medical journals and the author of three books, including Coping With Kidney Disease: A 12-Step Program to Help You Avoid Dialysis, published in 2004. He sat on the editorial boards of Kidney International and the American Journal of Kidney Diseases.

"The quality of his care was evidenced by the daily telephone calls and his total availability for his patients," said Normie Harris, a longtime friend whose late husband was cared for by Dr. Walser. "He tried to reduce their suffering and expressed hope in the face of despair."

Dr. Walser, who was known for his bow ties, was a world traveler. He enjoyed playing the piano, tennis and sailing. Late in life, he took watercolor lessons, painting seascapes and landscapes.

A liberal Democrat, Dr. Walser was an unsuccessful candidate for the party Central Committee in 1970 and enjoyed talking politics with family and friends.

"He used his rapier wit to spar with people of a different political mindset," said his stepson, Lawrence M. Gleason Jr. of Mexico City.

"All his life Mack was a socially concerned liberal, and issues of human dignity and human rights concerned him greatly," Dr. Talalay said.

His memberships included the Century Association of New York, L'Hirondelle Club and the Hamilton Street Club.

Services are private.

Also surviving are his wife of 18 years, the former Betsy Gearon, a retired theatrical casting agent; two sons, Cameron Walser of Topanga, Calif., and Eric H. Walser of Santa Monica, Calif.; two daughters, Karin D. Walser of McLean, Va., and Dr. Jennifer M. Wilson of Truckee, Calif.; two stepdaughters, Kathy Krometis of Sperryville, Va., and Nina Watters of Dallas; a brother, Theodore R. Walser of New York City; two sisters, Jeanne W. Burdell of Springfield, Va., and Mary W. Brady of Washington; six grandchildren; and five step-grandchildren. His marriage to the former Lynn M. White ended in divorce.

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