Peter H. Berman, M.D.

December 29, 1931 - September 1, 2016

Co-written by:
Barry Russman, MD (first trainee and very close friend)
Gihan Tennekoon, MD (former colleague, former Chief of Pediatric Neurology at CHOP and very close friend)
Don Younkin, MD (colleague, Head of CHOP training program and very close friend)

Dr. Peter H. Berman passed away September 1, 2016 after a massive myocardial infarction. Dr. Berman was the chair of pediatric neurology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) from 1969-1994. He was the 16th President of the Child Neurology Society (1991-93), past President of the Professors of Child Neurology, and in 2002 received the Society's highest honor, the Hower Award, at the 31st Annual Meeting in Washington, DC. 

A native of Vienna, Austria, Dr. Berman fled the Nazi regime and lived in the countryside around London before immigrating to New York's Upper West Side. He and his wife met in the Harvard medical library. Lynne recalls that "he kept staring at me at the Harvard Library," she said. When she got up to take a break, he went through her papers to learn her name and called every university in Boston, finally locating her at Simmons College. He went on to take her to the opera. The two married and had three children. Besides his wife, he is survived by sons John and Michael a daughter, Elizabeth; as well as six grandchildren and four nieces and nephews

Dr. Berman earned his medical degree at New York University College of Medicine; interned in pediatrics at Bellevue Hospital, New York City, and was a resident in pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Hospital, Minneapolis. He did his pediatric neurology training at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Massachusetts General Hospital. He was board certified in child neurology and pediatrics. Following a 2 year assistant professorship position in pediatric neurology at NYU, he was recruited by Lewis Rowland to CHOP as the 2nd chief of Pediatric neurology 1969.

 A prodigious researcher and author, Peter has published numerous important peer-reviewed articles in such diverse areas as: initial clinical trials of live polio vaccine (with Albert Sabin); classic neuropathology of neonatal meningitis, metabolic abnormalities in Lesch-Nyhan disease; correlation of measles and SSPE; relationship of rickets and anti-epileptic drugs; diagnostic value of EMG in infantile hypotonia; steroid responsive chronic inflammatory demyelinating neuropathy; phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy in Duchenne dystrophy; and prognosis of neonatal seizures.

Peter was an incredible teacher, mentor, colleague, and a very valued friend. It is perhaps his legacy as an outstanding teacher and mentor that will sustain his memory for most of us. In fact, his son Michael noted that"the thing that gave his father the greatest satisfaction professionally was teaching and working with residents in neurology," "He loved it." His wife said he was drawn to medicine because he wanted to teach. "He couldn't go into surgery because the mask itched his nose."

Peter stepped down from his position on Chief of Pediatric Neurology at CHOP after 25 glorious years. He then went on his first sabbatical in the fall of 1994. He enjoyed 4 wonderful months at Boston Children’s Hospital; then Miami Children’s hospital during the winter months and finally the Maudsley Hospital in London to complete his year away from CHOP.

Upon returning to Philadelphia, he realized that he was too young to retire (65 years old). He then entered the third stage of an incredible career. For the next 10 years, he participated in the epilepsy program at CHOP, spending a great deal of time in the EEG laboratory as well as caring for patients with epilepsy. Still not wishing to retire at age 75, he restricted his commitment to 50% time (but no night call). For the next 9 years he continued to read EEGs and teach the residents.

During these 9 years, he spent 3 months a year away from Philadelphia (during the winter months), living in Miami, not only for the sun and warm weather but also, for the opportunity to participate in the epilepsy program at Miami Children’s Hospital. As anticipated he was greatly appreciated by his colleagues at that center; the comments of his Miami colleagues mimicked those of his CHOP colleagues.

I polled several individuals asking for words and/or anecdotes which best describe Peter. Words included affable, wise, warm, supportive, witty, and forgiving. He was beloved by his trainees and his colleagues on the CHOP faculty.  He will always be appreciated for his quiet and effective approach to the patient and extraordinary clinical skills. Few sights are more familiar and welcome at Child Neurology Society annual meetings than that of Peter Berman walking the halls, reviewing poster displays, conversing with longtime colleagues, or greeting one of dozens of former trainees who have gone on to play a prominent role in the continued growth and good fortune of the Society he helped found as a charter member in 1972.

Peter, despite all the accolades given to him, was quite humble, not appreciating his many contributions to the discipline of child neurology and the positive influence has had over the many trainees and colleagues. He stated, in his opening comments of the Hower award, how ‘humbled and amazed he was to have served as CNS President between two giants in the field, Drs. Darryl De Vivo and Joseph Volpe, and how honored he was to deliver his award lecture the day following the Sachs Lecture presented by Dr. Francis Collins.’

 

But Peter was not perfect; he had a wonderful knack of forgetting names, even of present trainees. Peter, at times, could be found wondering around CHOP corridors, concentrating in his own world, chewing on his left forearm or smoking his pipe (in the old days). It seems as if he was ignoring the external environment. (Very wrong!!!) He was indeed a very colorful person at CHOP. In typical Peter fashion he worked all day Wednesday (he suffered a severe and fatal heart attack early the  next morning) and was planning to renew his license in December 2016 with plans to continue teaching EEGs to the residents and attend then resident clinic.

 

Peter’s legacy will live in our memories, and, by our actions, we shall attempt to replicate all we learned from him directly and by his wonderful example.