Don’t even think about using the word ‘prominent.’ Foreheads are prominent. If you’re going to tell me about what you’ve seen, you need to tell me about the structure’s size, its shape, its contour, its position. No ‘prominent.’”
That’s the sort of guidance radiologist Carl Fuhrman (MD ’79) was famous for giving. A celebrated teacher, Fuhrman challenged students to be precise in their language and observations.
Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Fuhrman attended Pitt for his undergraduate and medical studies. He became a full professor in the Department of Radiology in 1994 and served as chief of thoracic radiology for the next 27 years. He died unexpectedly in June, while reading X-rays.
Speaking at a memorial celebration in July, Christopher Faber characterized Fuhrman’s teaching as “the Socratic method, but with a Carl Fuhrman twist.” By asking binary questions such as “Which lung is larger?” Fuhrman guided students’ observations. “At the end, you would believe you had come up with the correct diagnosis,” Faber, associate professor of medicine, said.
“Everybody was brighter when they were around Carl.”
“His passion was teaching,” said Melissa McNeil (MD ’80), professor of medicine and a friend for more than 40 years. “He loved our students, and they loved him.” At the memorial, McNeil read excerpts from Fuhrman’s teaching evaluations, which she said contained more exclamation points than she had ever seen. “Dr. Fuhrman!!!” read one evaluation. “Everyone has got to listen to his lectures.”
Fuhrman was a nine-time winner of the Golden Apple Award, given annually by medical students to the top-rated professor. His peers in the national Association of University Radiologists voted him top teacher in 2013. And Pitt awarded him the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Fuhrman won his department’s teaching award 15 times—so often that in 2016 it was renamed in his honor.
For those who worked with and learned from Fuhrman, his skill as a teacher was inseparable from his excellence as a clinician. “You can’t be a gifted teacher unless you know your field backwards and forwards,” says Jules Sumkin, chair of radiology. “Carl just had all the pieces.”
Marion Hughes (MD ’00), who trained with Fuhrman and later became his colleague as associate professor of radiology, says: “To be excellent as a radiologist there’s a lot of inferring, and he was very good at that. He was extremely accurate and very fast, a rare combination.”
Fuhrman also possessed a legendary memory. At Fuhrman’s memorial, Jacob Sechrist, assistant professor of radiology, said, “Not only did he remember their medical history but he could tell you when they got divorced and how much their spouse got in the settlement.”
As a researcher, Fuhrman distinguished himself with more than 100 publications, contributing to the understanding of lung cancer, interstitial lung disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Fuhrman created a tutorial to aid radiologists across the UPMC system and beyond in correctly identifying the virus on a chest X-ray.
He was often reading chest X-rays by 5 or 6 a.m., Hughes says, so he could be finished in time to hear student presentations. Each Friday, from 7 to 8 a.m., he held a conference that was wildly popular.
“I learned something from Carl in every interaction,” said Faber. “Regrettably my education lasted only 33 years. In that time I learned perhaps 1% of what he knew. I was hoping to get to 2%.”
“It’s an incomparable loss,” says Hughes. “When you [are] not only great yourself but train hundreds of other people to be great, that’s your legacy.”
Jennifer Cope: Wash and Go
BY RACHEL MENNIES
In February 2020, while most Americans were still living normally in the growing shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, CDC medical officer Jennifer Cope (MD ’04) was deployed to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to screen travelers arriving from China for SARS-CoV-2. Two passengers who had been stuck in Wuhan for months were ordered to quarantine at a U.S. naval base. “They were both so gracious,” Cope recalls. “I don’t know how many people would have been. [Imagine] flying halfway across the world, you’re tired, you haven’t seen your family in maybe months.”
During her LAX deployment, Cope also experienced the stress of quarantining after being exposed to a confirmed-positive individual. In addition to being concerned about getting sick, she had to work from her hotel room (in February, before remote work was the norm) and delay going home. Cope says it was “the longest that I’d been away from my kids since they were born. It was tough.”
Yet she was driven to contribute more. She was home in Atlanta for only a few weeks before deploying to North Dakota to expand testing capacity there—most memorably by testing workers at a manufacturing plant during an April snowfall. (Her head-to-toe PPE kept her warm.) In the summer, Cope returned to Atlanta to pitch in at the CDC’s emergency response center.
Cope is the CDC’s subject-matter expert for free-living amoeba infections, which spread to humans through water. She’s still busy confirming amoeba-infection cases, but as the team leader of the Domestic Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Epidemiology Team at the CDC, she’s now using her expertise in waterborne disease surveillance to help implement a new system for monitoring the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
The WASH team is working with the wastewater sector and local public health officials nationwide to build a national wastewater surveillance system for SARS-CoV-2, which is shed in stool. Testing the sludge at a wastewater treatment plant can offer an early warning of a COVID-19 outbreak.
“This tells you, ‘This is probably a place where we need to ramp up clinical testing,’” she notes. —Rachel Mennies
JULY 21, 1939–JUNE 27, 2020
As a teenager in Pittsburgh, Bertram Lubin (MD ’64)—then a budding jazz drummer—experienced a once-in-a-lifetime breakthrough: The drummer for jazz legend Thelonious Monk had fallen ill before the show that Lubin had snuck out of the house to attend. Lubin, excited, offered to pinch-hit on the drums—and performed with Monk onstage.
Lubin, a hematologist and pediatrician and the former president and CEO of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, died in June. He’s remembered by friends and family for his twinned lifetime dedications to music and medicine—both shaped by the city of Pittsburgh.
“My father loved science, medicine and jazz,” reflects his son Alex Lubin. “These were passions he developed in Pittsburgh and at Pitt Med. He dedicated his life to helping others, to creating meaningful change in health outcomes and access, and to seeing the best in everyone he encountered.”
Commitment to underserved communities characterized Lubin’s medical career, including breakthroughs in sickle-cell research that led to the founding of the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI). His standard-setting push to screen newborns for sickle-cell disease became law in California; that policy was adopted in all 50 states. At CHORI, Lubin also created an umbilical cord blood storage program for the siblings of children in need of a stem cell transplant; it was the first program of its kind in the world.
Pittsburgh was always in his heart, Alex notes. He says his father always kept a copy of Pitt Med magazine on his coffee table. In 2007, Pitt Med awarded Lubin its Hench Distinguished Alumni Award. —Rachel Mennies
OCT 15, 1931–AUG 6, 2020
As a Pitt Med student, Martha D. Nelson (MD ’56) frequented Jonas Salk’s lab. “We would spend lunchtimes watching the monkeys—the ones that [Salk] used to come up with the polio vaccine,” recalls classmate Herbert Croft (MD ’56).
Studying at Pitt during that time inspired Nelson to become a champion of public health. She found her calling in Ohio’s Summit County Health Department. She was hired in 1961 as director of medical services and soon became the youngest health commissioner in the state.
Croft witnessed Nelson’s impact, having also moved to Summit County. During his first year of medical practice, he spent Sundays administering the Salk team’s polio vaccine at schools under Nelson’s department’s purview.
Nelson served as health commissioner for 38 years. Besides organizing immunization campaigns, school health programs and access to quality health care, she was a founding member of Planned Parenthood of Akron and served on its medical advisory board.
When Nelson retired in 1996, the Akron Beacon Journal noted that she had garnered respect for her ability to accomplish any project. As her daughter, Jane Nelson, CEO and executive director of the Oklahoma Nurses Association, puts it: “My mother was out there doing it and not talking it.” The Summit County Board of Health named the Martha D. Nelson Public Health Clinic in her honor.
Nelson’s husband, Roger Nelson, says she loved her position because “she felt that she was impacting more lives through public health practices than she would have in private practice.” Indeed, Jane Nelson says her mother “saw the community itself as her practice.” —Nithya Kasibhatla
Photo: © Akron Beacon Journal. 1993. USA TODAY NETWORK
FEB 6, 1962–OCT 19, 2020
Linton Traub was finishing his PhD at the Weizmann Institute when he and wife, Jill, bought their first original lithograph—a rooftop cityscape evocative of the view from their Israeli apartment. The acquisition launched a local arts patronage that spanned three decades as the pair moved first to St. Louis for Linton’s postdoctoral fellowship at Washington University and then to Pittsburgh, where he spent 20 years on the faculty of Pitt’s Department of Cell Biology. “We’re running out of space on the walls,” says daughter Simone.
And yet when Traub died, his family decided to hang one more original—a series of Coomassie blue–stained protein gels from the London-born scientist’s lab notebooks. “His gels were perfect,” says Texas Tech University’s Peter Keyel (PhD ’06), who trained with Traub. “He wanted data of a quality that was incontrovertible.”
Traub investigated how the protein clathrin affects the passage of macromolecules from the eukaryotic cell surface to the inside of the cell. The process influences cellular uptake of iron and other critical substances. “His work was fundamental to our current understanding of how clathrin-coated structures are assembled, how cargo is recruited into these structures and the physiological role of this process,” says Pitt cell biology department chair Alexander Sorkin.
Traub’s final paper was a single-author report on molecular tools he’d developed, illustrated with his characteristically impeccable gels, to elucidate the earliest steps in clathrin coat formation. Says Sorkin: “Linton’s hunger for research, resilience, rigorousness and boundless knowledge of scientific literature were second to none.” —Sharon Tregaskis