Einstein/Montefiore Department of Medicine

Doris JW Escher, MD - Pioneering Montefiore Cardiologist

Dr. EscherThe Montefiore Einstein Department of Medicine and the James and Ruth Scheuer Division of Cardiology mourn the loss of Doris JW Escher, MD, our longtime colleague, friend and mentor, who passed away on April 3, 2019, at 101.  Dr. Escher, who first joined Montefiore as a trainee in 1942, was the founder and first director of its Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory and achieved an international reputation as one of the early innovators in pacemaker technology. Until her retirement in 2006 at the age of 88, Dr. Escher was a professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and an active clinical cardiologist who was beloved by her patients.
 
“Dr. Escher is more than a Montefiore icon and footnote to history, but a legacy that will live on,” said Dr. Mark Greenberg, a professor of Medicine (Cardiology), who delivered a eulogy for Dr. Escher at a memorial service, held on Sunday, April 7, at Larchmont Temple, in Larchmont, New York.  “There have been quite a few hardworking, bright Cardiologists at Montefiore, but none have shared her pioneering spirit, candidness, and warmth.”
 
A lover of science fiction and devoted Star Trek fan, Dr. Escher often used the phrase “Where no man has gone before," played during the title sequence of the original hit television series describing the mission of the starship Enterprise – as the blueprint for her own ambitious and pioneering career.
 
A 1938 graduate of Barnard College, Dr. Escher was one of three women to graduate from New York University Medical School in 1942.  Following residency training at Montefiore, she became a research fellow in Medicine and Physiology at NYU, working with Dr. Andre Cournard, who established the city’s first cardiac catheterization lab, and who won the Nobel Prize in 1956 for perfecting a simple method of exploring the heart through catheterization. In 1948, armed with new knowledge and novel techniques, Dr. Escher returned to Montefiore, where she worked tirelessly to build her own cardiac catheterization lab, only the second lab of its kind in the New York metropolitan area. From a room with one bed and a tilt-table fluoroscope, she grew her lab to include a full team of physicians practicing in a state-of-the-art, multi-room Cardiac Catheterization Unit, which she directed until 1984. 
 
In 1959, Dr. Escher and her longtime surgical colleague, Dr. Seymour Furman, were the first to place an implantable pacemaker through a vein into the heart. Until that time, placing a pacemaker required opening the chest, routing the wire on the outside (rather than the inside) of the heart and was used only for the most desperate situations. She pioneered the concept of a pacemaker follow-up clinic and, with Dr. Furman and bioengineer Bryan Parker, designed the first trans-telephone unit to check pacemakers via the telephone at Montefiore.
 
Drs. Escher and Furman’s landmark New England Journal of Medicine article reporting on their findings was initially rejected; the reviewer claimed it wasn’t possible to pace from inside the heart (only the outside). The decision was reversed, however, after the researchers brought the editor by taxi to the Bronx to show him a patient hooked up to their pacemaker. “The paper was published and the world of cardiology changed forever,” Dr. Greenberg said. Dr. Escher was smart, energetic, but doggedly perseverant. Later in life, she used the monetary award she received upon being named Physician of the Year to set up an annual medical lecture. “Doris would introduce the speakers dressed in a Star Trek uniform,” Dr. Greenberg recalled, noting the speakers were pioneers who shared her vision to “go where no man (or woman) went before.”  During her awards speech at the Montefiore Gala, held in November 1995 at the Waldorf Astoria, Dr. Escher thanked Montefiore and her children, among others, for giving her the time and freedom to pursue her dreams, her daughter Dara Gordon recalled. “Montefiore gave me space and power; very unusual for a woman at the time,” Dr. Escher said.

Referencing her beloved Star Trek, she also offered this sage advice: “I’ve been at the cutting edge of many things, Montefiore included. I think I would like to ask you tonight to join me to go where no man has gone before and to bring this institution into the next century in full bloom.”
 
Dr. Escher’s interests extended beyond her medical research. The author of hundreds of medical journal articles, Dr. Escher is remembered for her drive and determination, her embrace of new ideas and medical advances, and above all, her deep dedication to her patients.  It was her mission to make sure that her patients received the best and most comprehensive care available, regardless of their ability to pay.
She was an active participant in local, national, and international organizations. Dr. Escher credited much of her successful career to her husband of 48 years, Dr. George C. Escher, an internationally recognized oncologist, who encouraged her to give up becoming a science teacher and apply to medical school.
 
We send our heartfelt condolences to Dr. Escher’s children, Dr. Jeffrey Escher (Monique) and Daralynn Escher Gordon (Kenneth); her grandchildren Max Escher, Sam Escher, Michael Gordon, Laura Gordon and her spouse Berkley Wilson; and her great-grandchildren, Lilia and Eliza Wilson.  
 
Anyone wishing to honor Dr. Escher’s legacy may do so by contributing to The Escher Foundation, supporting cardiology and oncology research, education and patient support.  Mailing address: The Escher Foundation, 6 Maple Hill Drive, Larchmont, New York 10538.  
 
Dr. Escher’s presence will be sorely missed, but her indomitable spirit and remarkable legacy will continue to inspire us.

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