If I were limited to one word to describe my late husband Gordon, I would call him “determined.” Certainly his career as a pulmonary researcher and physician was marked by his determination to solve the riddles of COPD and Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Following his death, on June 8, 2013, the Alpha-1 Foundation described his professional contributions, in part, as follows.
“We lost a pioneer and dear friend with the passing of Gordon Snider,” said John Walsh, Alpha-1 Foundation president and CEO. “We all appreciate that he leaves an incredible legacy and we owe a debt of gratitude for his leadership, vision, tenacity, patience and friendship . . . Dr. Snider’s leadership helped the Foundation establish a robust research agenda.”
Bartolome Celli, MD, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and the Pulmonary and Critical Care Division of Brigham and Women’s Hospital . . . quot[ed] the Cuban poet Jose Marti: “The most important signature of a human is his written word and the memory of long lasting friends.” The poet’s words are “applicable to this remarkable man who touched us all. Yes, we lost a friend but his ‘signature’ will last forever,” Celli said.
In a career that spanned more than 40 years, Snider showed how emphysema is created and changed the direction of lung disease research for decades. He founded the pulmonary section of the Boston University School of Medicine and was chief of medical service at the Boston VA Medical Center for 14 years.
He served as president of the American Thoracic Society. He trained dozens of young researchers. He served on the Pulmonary Disease Advisory Board of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and innumerable scientific committees. And he conducted his own groundbreaking research on lung diseases.
In 2009, the Alpha-1 Foundation presented Snider with a lifetime achievement award at an event attended by more than a hundred of his colleagues and researchers he trained – many of them now leading researchers and clinicians themselves . . . Celli served as master of ceremonies and said, “Dr. Snider is one of those rare giants, a triple threat — a great researcher, a superb caregiver and teacher.”
Gordon officially “retired” in 2000, but that didn’t stop him from going to the office almost every day. He loved interacting with the medical students and residents. It was a mutual attraction I’m told. He also used that time to co-author a number of research papers and, to the best of my recollection, to write at least one long article on the history of lung research. In addition, in his “free” time, Gordon continued as a member of the scientific leadership of both the Alpha-1 Foundation and the American Lung Association.
But Gordon’s determination wasn’t limited to his professional life. When I first met him, he was equally determined to beat what he told me was a genetic predisposition to heart disease on both sides of his family. To that end, he adhered to a strict diet and an equally strict regimen of daily exercise. Then one morning, barely two months after his 81st birthday, Gordon’s genes finally caught up with him.
That morning I awoke to the sound of Gordon stumbling on his way up the stairs with my morning coffee and paper. Typical physician, he had a ready explanation. I wasn’t to worry he said. An hour or so later, however, he tried to jot down a phone number and his fingers wouldn’t cooperate. This time I called the doctor. She said we should go to the emergency room. Thankfully Gordon agreed.
Unfortunately, Gordon was having a stroke that, over the next twenty-four hours, immobilized his right side and significantly impaired his speech. Surprisingly, however, he wasn’t upset like I was. Instead, his spirits were up. After all, he said, he was lucky to have lived so long without any other major medical problems.
From that point forward, Gordon never looked back. Our mutual mantra became, “Life’s still worth living because it beats the alternative hands down.” Rather than mourning his life pre-stroke, Gordon developed a two-step plan. First he would work hard to recover as much as he could and then he would reinvent himself. To find out how he did it, you’ll have to wait for my next post, “A DETERMINED MAN – PART II.”