Erno Daniel: 1946-2015In Memoriam | Thu Aug 13, 2015 | 12:00am
It was a Sunday in February when my phone rang. It was Dr. Kurt Ransohoff, CEO of Sansum Clinic, telling me that Dr. Daniel had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. My reaction was, predictably, of utter shock and disbelief. Erno Scipiades Daniel was not just a respected and much-loved physician at Sansum, but for many years he has also been the primary care provider to both my wife, Julie, and me.
I don’t remember what I said on the phone. I am sure it was only semi-coherent because of all the emotions that I was trying to get under control. For a while I chose to be alone with my thoughts. Later, when I told my wife the news, we started sharing our grief.
To appreciate the extent of our reactions, it helps to know that Erno was more than just our doctor. He was a friend and a fellow émigré from Hungary. During our office visits, there was always some conversation in Hungarian. Unlike us, he spoke English as if he were born here, yet we were always surprised that his knowledge and use of Hungarian was also better than ours. Through our shared heritage and language, our relationship became very personal. He clearly enjoyed and cultivated this, because his medical reports to us always included special notes in Hungarian. He often made references to culturally unique events and activities of children that we had as shared experiences growing up in our country of birth.
A sad event Dr. Daniel seldom mentioned was the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, though some of the events took place mere blocks from his childhood home in Budapest. It forced his father to flee to the United States, where Erno and his mother and sister rejoined him in 1960. Erno became a citizen in 1964, the year he graduated from Santa Barbara High School. He believed deeply in American ideals of freedom and the great responsibilities citizens held. He went on to receive degrees from the California Institute of Technology and UC San Diego, completing his medical degree at UCLA in 1978.
He was married to Martha Peaslee, whom he met at the UCLA Medical Center where she was a nurse, in 1976, six months after they met, and together they had four children, Kristina, Michael, Mary, and Monica.
Dr. Daniel joined Sansum Clinic in 1978, and he practiced there the entirety of his career. He became interested in the developing specialty of geriatric medicine and was among the first to be board certified in the specialty. He became so knowledgeable that he lectured around the country and wrote textbook chapters and papers on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, though his work also included vascular ultrasound and a well-received book, Stealth Germs in Your Body.
But I had a unique relationship with him that allowed me to see another important and wonderful side of him. He was my self-appointed mentor. Erno was very pleased when I joined the Board of Trustees of Sansum Clinic, and he immediately took upon himself the responsibility of educating me and instilling in me the kind of passionate love of the institution that he himself had.
He began by providing me with the institution’s genesis and history, of which he was the unofficial keeper and curator. He gave me volumes of materials and carefully pointed out the founders’ vision and how they pioneered medical practices that only now, nearly 100 years later, are becoming received wisdom. It was obvious to me that he didn’t just love the clinic; he was immensely proud of it.
He believed the clinic was an essential and vital community resource. He was totally committed and dedicated to its success and understood that in addition to taking care of patients, it was also a commercial enterprise requiring effective business management and governance. He wanted to make sure that as a public trustee, I was educated and well informed on the issues and challenges confronting the health-care industry and that I was in a good position to perform my duties effectively.
Once each month, Erno sent a sizable package that contained the latest issue of Medical Economics magazine and dozens of articles he had selected for me from the New England Journal of Medicine and other publications. Some contained his notations for my attention and benefit.
I know many members of the Sansum family feel the same way about the institution and share Dr. Daniel’s love, dedication, caring, commitment, passion, and pride. Through my relationship with him, I was able to experience that commitment frequently, intimately, and intensely.
I feel Erno’s loss in many ways and most acutely. I will miss him as a doctor, a friend, an American with a shared Hungarian heritage, and a mentor. I don’t believe that I could pay his memory greater respect than to continue the learning process, even without his guidance, and do my best, as he had hoped I would. I will never again attend a meeting of the trustees, or read an article about health care, without thinking of him.