News, notes and follow-ups

Category: medicine

One year ago: Dr. Joel D. Weisman

WeismanDr. Joel D. Weisman was one of the first physicians to detect the AIDS epidemic and became a national advocate for AIDS research, treatment and prevention. He died one year ago.

Weisman, who was a general practitioner in Sherman Oaks at the time of his discovery, collaborated with UCLA immunologist Michael S. Gottlieb in his AIDS research. In the early 1980s, both of them began noticing a trend: clusters of gay patients who exhibited illnesses that seemed to stem from immune system defects.

Recognizing that these were not isolated cases, Weisman and Gottlieb wrote a report that appeared in the June 5, 1981, issue of the Centers for Disease Control's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. That report signaled the official start of the epidemic of what the federal agency later named acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

Weisman, who was gay, began pressing for services to AIDS patients, helping to found AIDS Project Los Angeles in 1983. He also helped organize the first dedicated AIDS unit in Southern California at what is now Sherman Oaks Hospital and Health Center.

Randy Shilts, in his definitive AIDS chronicle, described Wiesman as "the dean of Southern California gay doctors."

For more on the physician and his AIDS research, read Dr. Joel D. Weisman's obituary in The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Dr. Joel D. Weisman. Credit: Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR)

One year ago: Dr. Jean Dausset

Dausset The research of French Nobel laureate Dr. Jean Dausset, who died one year ago today at age 92, greatly contributed to making organ transplants possible.

Dausset discovered molecules on the surface of cells that allow an individual's immune system to distinguish between its own tissues and foreign tissues, which are vigorously attacked by disease-fighting antibodies.

With his Nobel Prize money and a substantial grant from French television, he established the Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humain, or CEPH, which went on to make a map of DNA markers that play a crucial role in deciphering the human genome.

Dausset, who was drafted into the French army during World War II, developed his passion for hematology while performing transfusions on the battlefields of North Africa during the Allies' Tunisian campaign. After Paris' liberation in 1944, he was put in charge of blood collection for the city's transfusion center.

For more information, read The Times obituary of Dausset that was published on June 27, 2009.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Dr. Jean Dausset after receiving an award in Spain.

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Robert E. Litman and the crafting of a name for a ground-breaking suicide prevention center

Litman use this Before psychiatrist Dr. Robert E. Litman and two psychologists opened the nation’s first comprehensive center dedicated to helping suicidal people, they had to figure out what to name it.

In his 2006 book “November of the Soul,” George Howe Colt writes about how Litman and his co-founders  — Edwin S. Shneidman and Norman L. Farberow  — settled on “Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center”:

They agreed that the title should include the word suicide. “It was time for the taboo problem and its attendant stigma to be brought out into the open where it could be acknowledged and dealt with openly and constructively,” they wrote. “We were also aware that what we were planning to do was not prevention, it was intervention," recalls Litman. “But Suicide Intervention Center?” He shrugs. “Didn’t have a ring to it. Sounded lofty. So we decided to call it Suicide Prevention Center as a challenge rather than hide behind a less provocative title.” On September 1, 1958, the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center opened with one phone line and a staff of five.

Litman died Feb. 14 at 88, and Shneidman died last year at 91.

The 92-year-old Farberow still volunteers at the center, which is now part of the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in Los Angeles.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: Norman L. Farberow, left, with Robert E. Litman. Credit: Thomas Neerken



Mary Herczog: 'After all, I'm 33, way too young to have breast cancer'

Herczog  “When a lump turned up in my armpit, I knew. Or rather, suspected. Because there are things you don’t allow yourself to think....

“After all, I’m 33, way too young to have breast cancer. There is no history in my family, except for my paternal grandfather, who died of it (oh, yes), but he was old (late 80s). Besides I never – and I mean never – drank, smoked, did drugs or drank coffee, tea or soda. I even exercise regularly. And I eat sort of low-fat except when I’m in New Orleans. So how could I have breast cancer?”

Freelance writer Mary Herczog wrote those words in the first of a nine-part series that The Times published monthly, beginning in late 1997.

She dubbed her third round with the disease “Cancer: The Extended Dance Remix” and kept writing about it on her website, It would be her last dance.

Herczog died Tuesday at 45.

Donations in her name may be made to Tipitina’s Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving Louisiana’s musical culture, or, an online charity that funds classroom projects.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: Mary Herczog in 1998. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

Mary Herczog, author of 'Merry Maladies,' dies of breast cancer at 45


Mary Herczog, a writer whose battle with breast cancer was chronicled in a series of stories in The Times and on her website,, died Tuesday. She was 45.

Herczog, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 33, wrote about her experiences battling the disease from the late 1990s into the 2000s for The Times' Health section.

Her varied writing career also included travel books about New Orleans and Las Vegas.  

Herczog is survived by her husband, Steve Hochman, a longtime pop music writer for The Times and other publications.

The full obituary is here.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Mary Herczog with her dogs Hayley and Bix at her Silver Lake home in 2002. Credit: Beatrice de Gea / Los Angeles Times

Nobel Prize winner Marshall Nirenberg dead at 82

Marshall Nirenberg, a scientist whose work untangling fundamental genetic processes earned him a Nobel Prize, has died. He was 82.

Nirenberg died of cancer Jan. 15 in New York City, his sister Joan Geiger said.

In 1961, Nirenberg and a colleague conducted an experiment that showed how the genetic information contained in DNA is translated into the protein molecules in cells.

His work earned him a share of the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1968.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Marshall Nirenberg in 1968, the year he won the Nobel Prize. Credit: Associated Press

Rock Hudson's lover Marc Christian: Dead again?


Anyone who thinks obit writers have it easy, here's a tale for you.

Several years ago, an e-mail was sent to my editor reporting the death of Marc Christian, the former lover of Rock Hudson, the 1950s and '60s romantic leading man and later star of TV's "McMillan and Wife." You might recall the tabloid frenzy that erupted when Hudson, who had maintained a resolutely heterosexual public image throughout his life, announced in 1985 that he had AIDS, which was sweeping the gay community. He died a few months later.

Christian, a former bartender and self-described musicologist, had been involved with Hudson for about three years, including a period of several months when Hudson knew of his illness but continued to have unprotected sex with Christian without telling him of his diagnosis.

Christian tested negative for AIDS after repeated tests. Nonetheless, he sued Hudson's estate for  damages and emotional distress. In 1989 he won a $21.7 million jury award, later reduced to $5.5 million. In 1991, he settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The case made headlines around the world, which would make Christian's death newsworthy.

To verify his death, I started with the person who reported it to us to in an e-mail. Normally, people who volunteer such news are eager to share it, so it was unusual to get no response. Finally, a response came but the details were sparse: It said Christian had died somewhere in Europe and his ashes had been scattered abroad. The e-mailer offered no other information.

Lacking contact information for Christian's next of kin, I did the next best thing: I called Marvin Mitchelson, the famous palimony lawyer, who had represented Christian in the Hudson case. Mitchelson had not heard of his former client's death but promised to look into it. When I told him about the mysterious e-mailer, he expressed concern. "There could be foul play," he said, and urged me to take the matter to the authorities.

This was the first time an obit assignment gave me the creeps. Given the circumstances, foul play seemed plausible. Anyone who files a lawsuit makes enemies, and Christian had won a nice bundle of money from Hudson's estate, which could make him a target. But I wasn't convinced that something horrible had happened.

Then, a day or two later, Mitchelson called back with good news. He had spoken to Christian's sister, who told him she had just received a birthday phone message from her brother. So the report of Christian's death had been premature. Case closed.

Still, I puzzled over why someone wanted us to believe Marc Christian was dead.

Through a careful review of the e-mails and some Internet sleuthing, I found out who that someone was. 

It was, I believe, Marc Christian.

I found a phone number (another long story) and left a rather irate message on his answering machine. Then I threw the file away and hoped I wouldn't be on the obits desk when he did finally die.

I'm still here, but maybe he isn't.

Around June of this year, I received another e-mail saying Marc Christian was dead. (Again.) This time a credible name was attached: Pat Broeske, a former Times feature writer. But Broeske was passing along secondhand information and could offer no useful contacts for verifying Christian's demise. Alas, the gracious and helpful Mitchelson was unavailable, having died in 2004 of cancer at age 76. Christian's other trial lawyer, Harold Rhoden, was also dead.

News clips from the 1990s said Christian lived in Hollywood, so I called the Los Angeles County coroner's office to see if it had any record of his passing. Nothing. I put Marc Christian out of my mind. Until an official source materialized, I was determined not to waste another minute on it. Maybe he was just fooling with us again.

A few weeks ago, my editor handed me a printout from a Google news group citing a new report of Christian's passing. I groaned.

This time the "news" emanated from a blog by Michael Musto at Musto could not verify Christian's death, but that didn't stop him from publishing an item headlined "Marc Christian Has Passed?" It was picked up as fact by other bloggers and websites, including the Huffington Post.

So I called the L.A. coroner again. Again, they had no record of a Marc Christian. Because Christian had family ties down south, I called the Orange County coroner's office. Nothing again. This didn't mean he wasn't dead, only that the circumstances of his death were not unusual enough to require the coroner's services. I had real bodies to bury, so I consigned Marc Christian to the bottom of the pile. But he continued to gnaw at the edges of my consciousness. Was he dead, or wasn't he?

Some days later I went back to read the comments posted on Musto's blog. I had a good chuckle. Some were funny, some were extremely nasty, others were X-rated. None were useful.

Then I came upon one comment that made me sit up. The writer said that Christian's full name was Marc Christian MacGinnis and that he died on June 2, 2009, from complications caused by pneumonia. Another poster said he found a record of the death on the Social Security Death Index. I found the index on the Web, entered that name and there he was.

But was it the Marc Christian I've been chasing?

Another poster said Christian owned a house on Knoll Drive. I Googled Marc Christian and Knoll Drive and a Christian Marc Macginnis popped up as the owner of a house in the 3400 block of Knoll Drive in the Hollywood Hills. Further Googling showed that this Macginnis purchased the house for $545,000 in April 1992, about eight months after the lawsuit against Hudson's estate was settled. A realty website says a sale is pending on this house for more than $1.2 million.

Then our top-notch researcher, Kent, found a second blog entry by Musto that said Christian's sister's name was Susan Dahl. He searched public records and found a document linking Dahl and a Marc MacGinnis to the same address in Irvine. Christian said in various news stories that he grew up in Orange County. This felt like progress, but it still wasn't enough to hang a story on. Further Internet searching did not produce a good phone number for Susan Dahl. So, once again, I'm back to square one.

Although I hate to admit it, it drives me nuts that I don't know if Rock Hudson's litigious ex is dead.

Anyone out there with a solid lead? If so, drop me a line here or at

-- Elaine Woo

Caption: Marc Christian, left, with attorney Marvin Mitchelson, announcing his lawsuit against Rock Hudson's estate in 1985. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Dr. William Ganz, Cedars-Sinai cardiologist and co-inventer of balloon-tipped catheter, dead at 90

Dr. William Ganz, a pioneering cardiologist and one of the inventors of a specialized catheter, has died. He was 90.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center released a statement Wednesday saying Ganz died of natural causes Tuesday in Los Angeles.

In 1970, Ganz and Dr. H.J.C. Swan invented a balloon-tipped catheter that measures heart function and blood flow in critically ill patients. The Swan-Ganz Catheter is still used by physicians across the world.

The hospital says Ganz also experimented with treating heart attacks by dissolving coronary artery blood clots in the early 1980s

He was born in Slovakia, educated in Prague and escaped communist Hungary to move to Los Angeles with his family in 1966. He is survived by his two sons, who are both doctors.

More later at

-- Associated Press

Jeanne Brodeur to be honored by her Long Beach aquarium colleagues

Brodeur The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach has created a scholarship fund in honor of Jeanne M. Brodeur, its vice president of development who died Oct. 19 after a long battle with cancer.

"Jeanne taught us so much and many are better people because of her," said Linda Glasco, development event manager at the aquarium. "She gave us strength, wisdom and life advice that we have passed on to our loved ones."

Brodeur, 58, joined the aquarium staff in 2003 and was diagnosed with cancer in 2004. On Monday she will be recognized as the 2009 outstanding professional by the Assn. of Fundraising Professionals.

Donations in Brodeur's name also can be sent to the Jeanne M. Brodeur Woman to Woman Campaign, which provides money to pay for cancer treatments and transportation to their medical appointments.

--Keith Thursby

Photo: Jeanne Brodeur.

Ignacio Ponseti and grateful parents

Ponseti The Des Moines Register published letters from parents whose children were patients of Dr. Ignacio Ponseti, who created a nonsurgical method of treating clubfoot in infants. Ponseti died Oct. 18 at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic. He was 95.

"To say that Dr. Ponseti was gentle would be an understatement," wrote Jennifer Diaz. "While other doctors had previously manipulated [her daughter's] foot with casts to the echoes of a screaming baby, he gently massaged her foot, bringing it to position while quietly talking to her. She never so much as whimpered with him. He was incredible."

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Dr. Ignacio Ponseti in 1943.  Credit: University of Iowa.


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