Hematologist Steven Coutre dies at 62

Steven Coutre was known for his research on chronic lymphocytic leukemia, his humility and his love of traveling and family.

- By Helen Santoro

Steven Coutre, who died Nov. 9, established a widely recognized research program at Stanford Medicine to understand and develop treatments for hematological disorders and malignancies. 
Courtesy of the Coutre family

Steven Coutre, MD, a professor of hematology at the Stanford School of Medicine, died Nov. 9 in Palo Alto, California, from complications of leukemia and COVID-19. He was 62.

The director of Stanford Health Care’s hematology clinic, Coutre had a passion for rigorous science and was integral to the development of new therapies for blood disorders, including multiple myeloma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, the disease he had and managed for many years, according to Ravindra Majeti, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Hematology.

Coutre reinvigorated Stanford Health Care’s hematology practice and established an internationally recognized clinical research program under the Division of Hematology, he said.

“Steve was a leader in the Stanford Medicine community and around the world in driving comprehensive and cooperative research to develop groundbreaking treatments for patients with hematological disorders and malignancies,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine. “He will be remembered for his compassion with patients, and for his intelligence and humility as a colleague, collaborator and mentor to the next generation of physician-scientists.”

Coutre treated patients at the Stanford Cancer Institute and ran clinical trials at the Hematologic Malignancies Program that aimed to uncover new drugs and treatments that could help patients suffering from blood diseases. Most recently, he served as the principal investigator of a phase-3 clinical trial funded by the National Cancer Institute that was testing a new anti-cancer drug in older patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

He also helped run another large, multicenter phase-3 clinical trial with Tait Shanafelt, MD, professor of hematology and the chief wellness officer at Stanford Medicine. The trial revealed that a combination of two drugs can keep chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients disease-free and alive longer than the traditional standard of care. The study was published in 2019 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

During the pandemic, he provided guidance to physicians and chronic lymphocytic leukemia patients about COVID-19’s potential impact on their health and treatment.

“Steve was one of the brightest lights in our field and in our division,” Majeti said. “He really built our clinical trial program across all of hematology and, as a consequence, our whole division has been able to contribute to the development of all kinds of novel agents for blood cancers primarily and blood diseases in general.”

Compassionate physician

Coutre was also beloved by his many patients, who had a variety of hematologic diseases, ranging from chronic lymphocytic leukemia to nonmalignant conditions, such as anemia and blood-clotting disorders, Majeti said.

“He’ll be remembered as an incredibly experienced and caring clinician,” Majeti said. “He was one of those physicians who the other physicians would go to when they had questions or queries or wanted to discuss a complex patient.” 

After graduating from Maine North High School in Des Plaines, Illinois, where he was a valedictorian, and attending an accelerated science program at Northwestern University, Coutre earned a medical degree from Stanford in 1986. Following his residency at Yale New Haven Hospital, he was appointed an acting assistant professor of medicine at Stanford in 1995. He became a full professor in 2013.

Gardening, traveling with family and beekeeping were among Steven Coutre's passions outside of his work. 
Courtesy of the Coutre family

“Being fellows together at Stanford in the early ’90s was a great opportunity for me, and I am sure all other fellows, for ‘peer-learning’ from Steve’s high level of professionalism, personal manners, organization skills, time management and highest quality patient care,” said Mahmoud Aljurf, MD, deputy director of the Oncology Center at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Saudi Arabia. “His clinic notes were among the most well-structured, comprehensive and thorough notes I have seen perhaps in my lifetime.”

A Renaissance man

Along with his dedication to research and patient care, Coutre applied his tireless energy and ability to be fully engaged in everything he did to lead an active and full life outside of work and always valued and prioritized his time with family, his son, Evan Coutre, said.

Steven Coutre’s wife, Kathy, described her husband as a Renaissance man with a thirst for knowledge and learning, and proficiency in many areas.

“He was a doer,” she said. “He would accomplish more in an hour than most could accomplish in a week. He made use of every minute in every day.”

In his off time, he was an avid gardener and an amateur beekeeper who harvested and shared honey with friends and local restaurants.

He also loved to travel, particularly to Hawaii with his family and to Florence, which his wife said held a special place in the couple’s hearts after Coutre taught there in the Stanford Bing Overseas Studies Program during the 2016 winter quarter.

Coutre also was active in the Stanford community. He served on the boards of the Stanford Faculty Club and Stanford Campus Recreation Association, and he regularly attended Stanford football games. 

Evan Coutre said he greatly admired his father’s selflessness and drive. “He was a clearly exceptional physician and internationally renowned researcher developing cutting-edge drugs, but he never did it to get recognized in any way,” he said.

“He worked tirelessly because he knew of the change he was making in the lives of others,” Steven Coutre’s daughter, Brooke Coutre, said. “That extended not just to his patients but to everything he did behind the scenes. Everything he did for his kids, his family and anyone else who knew him. Everything was done out of love.” 

In addition to his wife and children, Coutre is survived by five siblings: Charlene Steele of Smithville, Texas; Cindy Coutre of Simpsonville, South Carolina; James Coutre of Chicago, Illinois; Michele Clemetsen of Greenville, South Carolina; and Greg Coutre of Mundelein, Illinois.

The Dr. Steven E. Coutre Research and Education Fund has been established in Coutre’s honor to further his passion and legacy of research in hematology and to support the continued education of hematology fellows. To make a gift online, visit stan.md/CoutreMemorial.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

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