Irwin H. Kaiser

Irwin H. Kaiser


Dr. Irwin Herbert Kaiser, Professor Emeritus of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, died of heart failure on March 17, 1999, at the age of 81 years. Dr Kaiser was known to the thousands he educated as an inspired, demanding, and caring teacher and as a man of impeccable integrity and high intelligence with an unflinching devotion to the truth and power of reason. To his patients, he was the epitome of a compassionate, supportive, and highly skilled physician.

The only child of two public school teachers, Dr. Kaiser was born and raised in the city of New York. He attended public primary and secondary schools and then went on to Columbia University, where he was editor of the school newspaper, the respected Columbia Spectator. He earned his medical degree at Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1942. After graduation, he did an internship in obstetrics and gynecology, and the following year he was commissioned into the United States Army Medical Corps, where he served honorably through the end of World War II.

It was during his years at Johns Hopkins that Dr. Kaiser first met Dr. Alan F. Guttmacher, who became his mentor, colleague, and friend. After the war, Dr. Kaiser spent a year as a research fellow in embryology at the Carnegie Institute and then returned to Baltimore to do his residency training at Sinai Hospital. His first job after completing residency was in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, headed by Dr. John McKelvey, at the University Of Minnesota. He was a faculty member from 1950 to 1959 and rose to the rank of Associate Professor. During this productive period, he did a sabbatical year at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, and received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

In 1959, he was appointed Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Utah, a position he held until 1968. He then joined the faculty of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where he remained until his retirement in 1990. During his tenure at these latter 2 institutions, Dr. Kaiser was active in many of the leading professional societies of our discipline. He was a fellow of both the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society and the New York Obstetrical Society. He was elected to membership in the Society for Gynecologic Investigation and served as president of the Bronx Gynecologic and Obstetrical Society, and as Section Chairman of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the Association for Volunteer Sterilization and of the National Medical Committee for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In his many positions of professional leadership, and as a prominent and prolific author of scholarly research, Dr. Kaiser stood fast as a passionate advocate of the great themes that characterized his career, women's rights, universal access to health care, and civil rights, which are areas in which he was ahead of his time and often outside what was then the mainstream of American medicine. He devoted countless hours to these activities and did not shy away from facing controversy where it arose, such as his early-1960s membership in the Medical Committee for Human Rights and his advocacy for improved medical care in the third world. He traveled twice to embargoed Cuba, committed to aiding in the development of the Cuban health care system.

Simultaneously, he contributed greatly to our current understanding of pregnancy, labor, and delivery. He was an early and vocal advocate of vaginal birth after cesarean section. Dr. Kaiser continued to teach residents how to do difficult forceps deliveries and how to deliver babies in breech presentation vaginally long after teaching these techniques had begun to fall out of vogue. He extensively updated and revised he 1983 and subsequent editions of Pregnancy, Birth, and Family Planning, the popular work originally written by his mentor, Dr. Guttmacher.

Little known to his medical colleagues, in private life Dr. Kaiser was a lifelong jazz lover and a friend since college days of Ralph Gleason, co-founder of "Rolling Stone" magazine. Dr. Kaiser frequented Harlem night clubs in the 1930s, and over the course of his life, he gathered one of the world's most extensive collections of Duke Ellington recordings. In the 1960s, he produced a series of public radio programs on Ellington's early recordings.

Dr. Kaiser is survived by his wife of 57 years, the Honorable Barbara L. Kaiser, who served with distinction as a judge in the Family Court of Westchester County, New York. The Kaisers published several joint papers on social issues in medicine. Their family is composed of 6 children and 15 grandchildren. His death represents a tremendous loss for them and for the extended professional and patient community that for so many years enjoyed the benefits of his deep intellect and his tender heart.

Submitted by Irwin R. Merkatz, M.D.

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