Remembering Rudi Schmid


  • Paul D. Berk M.D., FACP

    1. Professor of Medicine, Division of Digestive and Liver Diseases, Columbia University Medical Center, Russ Berrie Medical Research Pavilion, New York, NY
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  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.

The affectionate obituary of Rudi Schmid by Monty Bissell and Don Ostrow in the February issue of HEPATOLOGY1 recalls both this extraordinary individual and the remarkable time when Rudi stood astride the nascent world of hepatology like a colossus, dispersing his collection of exceptional fellows around the country to become the leaders in this new field. I never had the opportunity to be one of Rudi's fellows, but he nevertheless earned my admiration and affection from virtually the start of my own career.

In the early winter of 1969, having completed my first study as a Clinical Associate at the National Institutes of Health, I wrote up the data and submitted the manuscript, “Studies of bilirubin kinetics in normal adults”, to the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI). I did this against the advice of my mentor and several other colleagues, all of whom felt that, in submitting to the JCI, I was aiming too high for a first manuscript. In addition, our manuscript claimed that we had accurately calculated the rate of bilirubin production in normal individuals. I was told that the manuscript would almost certainly go to Rudi Schmid for review, and that, because Schmid had stated in a JCI paper in 1963 that bilirubin production could not, on theoretical grounds, be measured by kinetic approaches in normal individuals, my manuscript was unlikely to find favor with him.

The predicted rejection letter arrived in due course, and included, among other reasons, my disagreement with the earlier paper by Schmid and Hammaker.2 Accepting the inevitable, I began to revise the manuscript for submission elsewhere, incorporating a number of the constructive suggestions from the JCI critique. At the same time, not wishing to appear like a total idiot to the JCI's editor, Paul Marks, with whom I was shortly slated to start a hematology fellowship, I also sent him a detailed rebuttal to what I presumed were Rudi Schmid's criticisms of our kinetic analyses.

About two weeks later, I found myself speaking on the telephone with Rudi himself. He identified himself as the anonymous reviewer of my manuscript. Paul Marks had passed on my rebuttal, Rudi had read it several times, and was deeply concerned that he might have done me an injustice. He was coming to Washington, and if I was available, would like to meet me for lunch at the Shoreham Hotel the following week. Our scheduled lunch lasted almost until dinnertime, with Rudi continuing to scribble equations and notes about kinetics on paper napkins after the pages of his yellow pad were used up. When we finally parted he said, with a sly and delightful grin, “I'm sure you realize that I haven't understood 90% of what you said to me this afternoon, but I can certainly find people who will”.

Another two weeks or so elapsed, and my revised manuscript, packaged for resubmission elsewhere, was sitting in our outbox when I was again summoned to the telephone. This time it was Paul Marks on the line. “If you haven't submitted your paper somewhere else yet, I wanted to tell you that the reviewer whose concerns were most influential in our decision to reject it has indicated that he has revised his opinion, and that as a result, we would be happy to reconsider …” My first paper was published in the JCI in November 1969.3

I have been ever since then a great admirer of Rudi, and would also like to think that, over the years, we became friends. I can think of few people other than Rudi who, while at the peak of their careers, would have gone to the trouble that he took on behalf of a very junior, unknown beginner. This sort of intellectual integrity was just one facet of this remarkable and brilliant man.