Frederick Heldrich, associate professor of pediatrics
at the School of Medicine and a master diagnostician who
taught generations of fledgling pediatricians the art and
science of solving medical puzzles, died Jan. 2 in
Baltimore. He was 82.
"Dr. Heldrich was a pediatrician's pediatrician," said
George Dover, pediatrician in chief and Given Professor of
Pediatrics at the Johns
Hopkins Children's Center. "For more than five decades,
he trained pediatricians in the art of medicine, and seemed
happiest teaching and learning new things, particularly at
the bedside. He was a role model for us all."
Heldrich had the brilliant mind of a scholar, the
sharp analytical skills of a sleuth and the heart of a
caregiver, with an endless capacity for compassion and
without a trace of cynicism, Dover noted.
Johns Hopkins, with its stream of complex cases,
provided the ideal setting for Heldrich's restlessly
inquisitive mind, his colleagues recalled.
As director of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center
Diagnostic and Referral Clinic, he became something of a
legend and the diagnostician of last resort.
"He is probably the single person about whom I've
heard residents and students say most often, 'I want to be
like him,'" said Julia McMillan, director of the Pediatric
Residency program at Johns Hopkins. "He was warm and
sensitive and immensely knowledgeable," she said. "He'd
come to see a patient at the drop of a hat, always
appearing in his bow tie."
One of Heldrich's former students, Michael Barone, now
an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins and
at St. Agnes Hospital, recalled, "When you're a medical
student, you hear about master clinicians, and I knew I'd
met one as soon as I met Dr. Heldrich. His humility was
remarkable. He was always courteous and valued every
opinion, no matter how far-fetched. His colleagues admired
him, but virtually everyone who met Heldrich revered him as
a gentle man."
Colleague Charles Shubin recalled a telling account of
Heldrich's deep embarrassment after learning that St. Agnes
Hospital, where he directed the Pediatrics Division for
many years, had named a lectureship after him.
"He didn't have an arrogant bone in his body; that's
how nice and how modest he was," said Shubin, an assistant
professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins and the head of
Pediatrics at Mercy Family Care.
After spending five decades on the front lines and
seeing tens of thousands of cases, Heldrich was a reservoir
of knowledge for his residents and students.
"Because of his vast experience, Heldrich used
anecdotes and cases that he'd come across in his practice
in a manner that was very illustrative and very helpful to
the students," McMillan said.
Heldrich believed that the most critical skill for a
pediatrician was the ability to listen to his patients, and
it was something he told his students time and again.
"He taught us that without a detailed patient history
and detailed physical exam, all else is a misguided
effort," Barone said. "It was a skill he elevated to an
Colleague Michael Burke, chair of Pediatrics at St.
Agnes, recalled, "He taught pediatricians the three A's of
medicine: ability, availability and affability."
Perhaps because he grew up in an era when doctors
could rely on little more than a stethoscope, palpation and
observation to make a diagnosis, Heldrich belonged to a
generation of physicians whose skills were sharpened by the
absence of advanced imaging techniques and invasive
procedures. Indeed, Heldrich was often exasperated by those
too eager to use these as diagnostic crutches.
Heldrich received his medical degree from the
University of Maryland in 1948 and served his residency in
pediatrics there and at Mercy Hospital. He joined St. Agnes
Hospital in Baltimore in 1955 and served as chairman of
Pediatrics there from 1970 to 1992. In 1992, he joined the
faculty at Johns Hopkins and split his clinical work
between Hopkins and St. Agnes.
Heldrich was a prolific researcher who co-wrote a
book, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, in 1987 and published
extensively on topics including infectious diseases,
urinary tract infections, hemophilia, metabolic disorders
and genetic conditions, such as Marfan syndrome, among
Heldrich remained active into his 80s, resuming some
of his teaching duties even after he suffered a small
stroke last summer. He enjoyed boating and closely followed
Heldrich is survived by his wife, Eleanor; daughters
Sarah and Susan; and sons Frederick J. III and Philip. The
funeral will take place at 4 p.m. today, Jan. 8, at the
Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Incarnation, 4 E.