Cardiology researcher and mentor Edwin Alderman dies at 76

Over four decades at Stanford, Edwin Alderman trained hundreds of future cardiologists and led groundbreaking clinical trials. But he always made patients a priority.

- By Tracie White

Edwin Alderman

Edwin Alderman, MD, who trained generations of cardiology fellows at the Stanford School of Medicine and, later in life, became a world-class competitive indoor rower, died Oct. 3. A professor emeritus of cardiovascular medicine, he was 76.

The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said his wife of 49 years, Sylvia Alderman.

Edwin Alderman’s career at Stanford spanned nearly four decades. For 30 years, he directed the fellowship program in cardiovascular medicine. He brought a modest manner and intellectual brilliance to his work as a leader in clinical studies and patient care, colleagues say.

A specialist in heart catheterization, he also trained more than 200 cardiology fellows, teaching them how to diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease by safely threading a long, thin, flexible tube through blood vessels to the heart.

“He was what they call the ‘triple threat,’” said William Fearon, MD, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine, who graduated with the last class of cardiology fellows led by Alderman. “He was a superb physician, a real leader in the cardiology arena and a terrific mentor.”

Born in Rochester, N.Y., Alderman grew up helping out in his parents’ drugstore, where his father was a pharmacist. He attended the University of Rochester and earned a medical degree in 1963 from Johns Hopkins University. In 1965, he married Sylvia Rich, an alumna of Cornell University, whose roommate in college was Edwin Alderman’s cousin. The couple had three children.

After an internship at Einstein Medical Center and a residency at Montefiore Hospital, both in New York City, Alderman worked as a military physician at the U.S. naval hospital in Taipei. He moved to Palo Alto to began his career at Stanford in 1969.

He trained for a year in clinical research at the university and went on to conduct many clinical trials over the next three decades.

“He was one of the pre-eminent clinical investigators of his era,” said John Giacomini, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford and chief of cardiology at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, who took over the cardiology fellowship training program when Alderman retired.

Advocate of clinical trial evidence

Alderman was a leader in advancing the use of randomized, multicenter clinical trials to determine the best methods for heart disease treatment. He became infatuated with all aspects of coronary disease, from pathophysiology and pharmacology to the technologic approaches to treating heart disease.

“He was at the forefront of the most important large-scale national clinical studies aimed at learning which patients most benefited from bypass surgery and angioplasty,” said Richard Popp, MD, professor emeritus of cardiovascular medicine and longtime colleague. “He helped organize the most important of the multicenter clinical trials following hundreds of patients through, and after, heart surgery or angioplasty.”

Alderman retired in 2001 but continued as an active emeritus professor until 2008. Throughout his long and varied career, patient care always remained a priority for him, his wife said.

“He was always willing to go that extra step to help his patients understand what their problems were, and not just his hospital patients. That meant the neighborhood,” she said. “If someone needed to talk cardiology, they would come to Ed. He was always very patient and reassuring.”

Rowing champ

He always loved the outdoors, she said, but he made keeping fit a bigger priority when he became an athlete later in life and began cycling and rowing competitively, even training with the Stanford crew team. As a student, he wouldn’t have known where the gym was, his friends from college teased him.

In 2003, Alderman won an international indoor rowing contest, setting a new world record in his age and weight group. Prior to retirement, he had never participated in an athletic competition in his life, his wife said.

“When he found out he was likely to develop Alzheimer’s, he decided to focus on physical activity instead of mental activity, at least for recreation,” Sylvia Alderman said. “And when Ed decided to do something and that it was worth doing, it was worth doing to the max.”

His rowing activities, both on indoor rowing machines and on the water, eventually took the couple on multiple trips to Boston and even a trip to Europe for a competitions.

During the last decade of his life, Alderman continued to do as much physical activity as was possible as his Alzheimer’s progressed, his wife said.

“I feel very strongly as an advocate for Alzheimer’s patients that it’s important to remember that even as Ed lost his memory and lost the ability to communicate, he was still the same Ed. He was still the same kind, loving person,” she said.

In addition to his wife, Alderman is survived by their three children: David Alderman of Pocatello, Idaho; Joel Alderman of Santa Clara; and Judith Alderman, who is a registered nurse in the cardiac care unit at Stanford, of San Mateo. He is also survived by two grandchildren.

About Stanford Medicine

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