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In life and work, alumnus touched countless hearts

Donald Baim

There could be no greater gratification for a physician–scientist than seeing the fruits of his or her own research become an integral part of medical practice, providing patients with a better treatment than any that had existed before.

The late Donald S. Baim, M.D., a member of the medical school’s Class of 1975 and an internationally renowned innovator in the field of interventional cardiology, had that rare privilege.

Baim, who died unexpectedly in 2009 at age 60, served as chief medical and scientific officer at Boston Scientific Corp. (BSC), a global developer, manufacturer, and marketer of medical devices, since 2006. Despite his relatively short four-year tenure, Baim was greatly beloved and admired by his BSC colleagues, who have contributed $1.7 million to establish The Donald S. Baim, M.D., ’75 Scholarship Fund at the School of Medicine. The fund will provide an annual scholarship to a promising student with financial need in each year’s entering class, covering half the tuition for all four years of medical school.

“We are extremely grateful for the generosity of Boston Scientific and the contribution it is making to generations of young physicians,” says Robert J. Alpern, M.D., dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine. “Dr. Baim was a remarkable alumnus who made great advancements in the field of cardiovascular medicine, and we are pleased to continue his legacy through this scholarship fund.”

Baim was a founding figure and one of the most prolific innovators in interventional cardiology, the branch of cardiology focused on catheter-based delivery of therapies such as angioplasty, stents, valve repair, and ablation, the destruction of abnormal tissue to treat cardiac arrhythmias. In a 2010 remembrance published in the trade journal In Vivo, colleague and friend Gregg Stone, M.D., professor of medicine and director of cardiovascular research and education at the Center of Interventional Vascular Therapy (CIVT) at Columbia University Medical Center, describes Baim’s “almost Zen-like relationship with devices—he intuitively understood how a device would interact with the pathology and pathophysiology of a disease and how that interaction might help an individual patient.”

He was also one of those rare individuals known in academic medical circles as a “triple threat,” excelling in the clinic, the lab, and the classroom. Born in New York City, Baim spent his childhood in Miami Beach, Fla., and received his undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Chicago. Two fellow members of Baim’s medical school class at Yale—Martin B. Leon, M.D., professor of medicine and associate director of CIVT at Columbia, as well as vice chairman of the Cardiovascular Research Foundation in New York; and Steven N. Oesterle, M.D., now senior vice president for science and technology at Medtronic—were Baim’s lifelong friends, and also became leaders in interventional cardiology.

It was during a postgraduate fellowship in cardiology with John B. Simpson, M.D., Ph.D., at Stanford University School of Medicine that Baim first displayed his uncanny skill in treating heart disease using catheter-based methods. He went on to make seminal refinements to those methods over the course of a three-decade career, including 25 years on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, during which he published more than 300 articles, treated thousands of patients, and saw interventional cardiology rise from relative obscurity to become the standard of care for any number of heart disorders.

“Don Baim was the guy who introduced science to what [in the 1980s] was a very anecdotal, almost guild-like profession,” Oesterle recalled in In Vivo. In announcing the scholarship fund, Ray Elliott, president and chief executive officer of BSC, said, “Boston Scientific is proud to honor our esteemed former colleague by supporting the next generation of medical leaders at his alma mater.”