It's been 62 years since Barbara Hertz's dad passed away. She was just three-years-old when her physician father Dr. Saul Hertz died of a heart attack. The retired Greenwich special education teacher knew her father's work as a physician and scientist was important. It was decades later—in 2000—when she faced the daunting task of cleaning out her mother's house in Brookline, MA, that she began a journey that led to her own discoveries about her pioneering father.
Yes, her mother talked about her late husband. But her task at hand was a widow raising two young daughters. Barbara's sister Cynthia Hertz was 8 when their father died.
Flash forward—Barbara had her career as a special education here in Greenwich. When her mother passed away she was tasked with culling through boxes of documents her mother had preserved. In researching those documents, Barbara discovered of just how important and special her father was.
She's now on a mission, bringing to light the work Dr. Saul Hertz conducted and how it formed the basis for modern medicine and the treatment of cancer. "He did get credit for his work but he did not get his recognition," Barbara said.
"Here I had these boxes that were culled out by a medical historian. I wanted other scientists to see the process he went through," explained Barbara. "I also wanted to highlight the early years of nuclear medicine. I knew that putting them in a Dumpster wasn't going to do any good or (would) sitting in boxes in the basement of a library.
So with the help of scientists at Yale, Harvard, MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Hospital, she's formed the foundation for the website saulhertzmd.com/ . It is there that she's creating a history and database for physicians and scientists.
"I know he would be smiling up in Heaven that the computer allows doctors from all over the world to learn of his work" and to help them in their research, Barbara said. Once she's done with her work on the website, she said she hopes to donate the boxes of documents to an appropriate facility.
In the meantime, she has written a Father's Day tribute to her Dad which follows below.
By Barbara Hertz
The first memory I have of my Dad is from a picture that hung on my bedroom wall when I was a small child. He had died suddenly of a heart attack when I was three. He looked happy and elegant in formal tails next to my beautiful Mom in her rented wedding gown. They stood by the fireplace in our Grove Street home in Brookline, a suburb of Boston.
As a youngster, I would not have recognized the Phi Beta Kappa Key Dr. Saul Hertz wore that day. It was not until much later that I learned of its significance as well as his important contribution to medicine. I grew up hearing that my dad had discovered radioactive iodine as a treatment for a disease, but had little information beyond that.
My mother, Vitta, lived in that family home until her passing in 2000. While in the process of sorting through the clutter and memories, I came across boxes and boxes of original research stored safely in the attic. This amazing find led me to explore his work. After many Internet searches, I came to realized that my father’s name was curiously missing from the major articles about radioactive iodine. The stored boxes that I had discovered sat in a small bedroom closet in my home in Connecticut, while I sought out advice from medical historians about how to organize the treasure of lab notebook, journal reprints, newspaper article, personal correspondense as well as related materials to his life.
Slowly the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together. A page from his Harvard Medical School yearbook confirmed that he graduated in 1929. This was during a time when there were a limit on the number of Jewish students who could attend. During the 1930s and '40s Jewish doctors were restricted as to where they could practice. My dad was most fortunate to become the Director of the Thyroid Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital. Across the Charles River he collaborated with a physicist from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on radioactive iodine research. This research was the funding behind the building of MIT’s cyclotron. During World War II my father served on The Manhattan Project as a Navy officer. Upon his return from military service he joined the staff of The Beth Israel Hospital where his research for a cure for cancer took hold.
My mission to put forth his name to the discovery of a treatment that has since been utilized for over 70 years worldwide, became clear. I met with The National Museum of Jewish History where he has been inducted among 300 selected notables for the "Only in America Gallery." Additionally, the Saul Hertz, MD website has been established that offers access to all his published papers and much more.
Only by happenstance, did I meet a doctor who had known my father. He had a special history project for The Endocrine(ENDO) Society, that he developed into a presentation for their Annual Meeting in Philadelphia in 2003. With great care he gave me my dad’s handwritten Data Charts of the very first patients treated with radioactive iodine(RAI). The results proved the success of RAI in the treatment of Graves disease (hyperthyroidism). I learned that this profound discovery started with a seminal question posed by my father, "Could iodine be made artificially radioactive?" His desire was to use radioactive iodine for medical purposes. Within a few years,his idea and his further research established firmly a cornerstone in the field of Nuclear Medicine.
This past winter, I organized a reception in Harvard Medical School's Vanderbilt Hall, the very place where his history making question was posed. Thyroid specialists spoke of my father's discovery of Radioactive Iodine as a tracer, the preferred treatment for Graves disease and the first targeted cure for Cancer.
An outgrowth of the seed planted by my dad's research and teaching is MIT’s Koch Institute For Integrative Cancer Research and Harvard Medical School’s and MIT’s joint program to earn a medical degree and a PH.D. Recently, Pulitzer Prize author Dr. Siddartha Mukherjee, described radioactive iodine as "A Trojan Horse" that bombards and destroys cancer cells. Modern scientists are looking to replicate this technique of a targeted therapy in cancer treatment. He stressed that my father's work has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Many years have gone by since that first memory. Today I look at that wedding photo taken in 1941 with a different pair of eyes. I understand the impact of his discovery and I will do everything I can to share his work and have him receive his well-earned recognition. I was the child who barely knew him, but as an adult I know full well of his greatness. Today, I honor my father as a grateful daughter and thank him for his generous gift to the world.