The former chief of the Veterans Affairs medical center in Palo Alto was remembered as a hard-working, generous mentor to generations of medical residents, and a caring husband and father.
April 21, 2016 - By Jennie Dusheck
Gerald Friedland, MD, a professor emeritus of radiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, died April 2 in Los Gatos, California. He was 82.
Friedland was also the former chief of what is now the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Stanford and organized the first Pioneering Women in Medicine conference in 2000.
Friedland was born in Pretoria, South Africa, the son of Elizabeth Friedland and Garson Friedland, MD, a founding father of the Radiological Society of South Africa. Gerald Friedland led a career as a clinical radiologist, researcher and administrator. He authored or co-authored more than 100 medical articles and 35 book chapters and contributed to four books.
A formal and reserved man, Friedland was remembered by family members and colleagues as ethical, generous and devoted to research, teaching and mentoring.
From London to Palo Alto
After earning a medical degree from University of Pretoria, Friedland began a series of residencies in Scotland, Cambridge and London. By 1964, he had taken a post at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.
In part because his wife Miriam “Micki” Friedland, MD, was allergic to the mold in old English houses, the couple began thinking about moving to the United States. Stanford was expanding its radiology department and, after applying for a position there, he learned that a young Stanford professor of radiology named Leslie Zatz, MD, happened to be in London on sabbatical.
The two men got together. “I was very impressed with him,” Zatz recalled in an interview. “He was enthusiastic and well-trained.” In 1967, the Friedlands moved to Palo Alto, and Friedland joined the faculty at Stanford as an assistant professor of radiology.
In the 1980s, Friedland succeeded Zatz as chief of what was then called the Palo Alto VA Medical Center and served in that position until his retirement in 1992 at age 59.
A passion for research
In Friedland’s early years, his clinical focus was on pediatric radiology and radiologic gastroenterology, but he took increasing interest in uroradiology and research. He developed a way to use ultrasound to image the urethras and prostates of patients with spinal cord injuries, and also settled a debate about the structure of the esophagus.
“When he was pursuing something, he didn’t give up. He was dogged and kept at it until he got the best answer he could,” said Zatz.
In 1974, while on sabbatical at the University of California-Davis, Friedland became interested in the early development of the anus and rectum in human embryos. Friedland and renowned pediatric surgeon Pieter de Vries, MD, showed that human embryos do not form a cloaca, as previous researchers believed. The cloaca — found in birds, for example — is a single exit from the body for the urinary, digestive and reproductive tracts, instead of separate exits as most mammals have.
Friedland and de Vries showed that early human embryos skip the formation of a cloaca and form a rectum and an anus in the eighth week after fertilization.
A change of heart
At 51, Friedland suffered a heart attack that changed his life. “He became a big proponent of healthy eating,” his daughter Jenny Tender, MD, said. “He knew about trans fats years before anyone else was talking about them.” And he made a conscious effort to be less intense and more Type B, said Tender.
When he was pursuing something, he didn’t give up.
Friedland and work had always been like two sides of the same coin. “My dad grew up in this formal, British, South African home,” Tender recalled. “He would literally not answer the door without his shoes on. He was pretty reserved, and for most of his life he worked like crazy, getting up every morning at 4:30 a.m.” Although he loved and cared for his family deeply, his passion was his work, family members said.
Matilde Nino-Murcia, MD, an emeritus professor of radiology at Stanford whom Friedland mentored when she was younger, said Friedland was always curious and excited about learning, and a relentless worker. He always seemed to have time for one more thing and assumed others did, too, she said. One Tuesday, she said, she gave him a paper she’d been working on, thinking he’d return it in a few days and that she would finish it that weekend. Instead, Friedland read the whole paper the same day. “He was very intense about things like that,” she said.
Conference on pioneering women in medicine
While co-authoring his 2000 book Medicine’s 10 Greatest Discoveries, Friedland was struck by how many women involved in major discoveries remained unknown. He came to believe that “women were being left out and not acknowledged for what they did,” said Micki Friedland.
To help, he organized a conference at Stanford in 2000 called the Pioneering Efforts of Women in Medicine and the Medical Sciences, which in turn led to publication of the 2015 book Pioneering Women in Medicine and the Medical Sciences, which he co-edited.
Friedland eventually developed Alzheimer’s disease with Parkinson’s-like symptoms that made it difficult for him to walk. Although he suffered, said Micki Friedland, he never grumbled or complained. Instead, the once-obsessive worker preferred to sit peacefully. “Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease,” she said. “It robs people of so much.”
Generous with time, credit
Friedland was a famously fair and attentive mentor to generations of residents, sharing both the actual work and the credit, said Nino-Murcia. “He took such pleasure in helping younger doctors,” she said, also recalling how both Friedlands helped medical students from other countries, checking to make sure they had found a place to live, that their kids were in good schools and that they were settling in.
Nino-Murcia said Friedland was most proud of his daughters and his basic research, particularly the embryological work he did with Peter de Vries. It was, she said, “exquisite research.” When he thought about that, she said, “his face would just be smiling.”
“He was unbelievably generous,” Tender said. “He would cook for people, and he wrote such sweet poems for my mom.”
In addition to his wife, Friedland is survived by a brother, Lionel Friedland, and sister, Myrtle Todes; daughters Jenny Tender and Lucille Friedland; son-in-law Lenny Tender; and his three granddaughters, Alyssa, Gabrielle and Lily.
The family requests memorial donations to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research.
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