A piece of New London history

New London's history is rich. Just down the street from my office, the Shaw Mansion stands in lone defiance of Benedict Arnold's attempt to burn down New London. Out my office window is the waste land of what used to be the vibrant Fort Trumbull Neighborhood, the battle for which was fought in the Supreme Court just a few years ago.

And every day in my office, people tell me their own piece of New London history with their stories. Liquor that was sold during Prohibition. Stores and businesses that were bought and sold. Lives lived. Loves lost.

One chapter in the history of medicine of New London County has just been closed with the retirement of two physicans, Dr. Peter Milstein and Dr. Brian Ehrlich. In 1979, they were young cardiologists, fresh from their training in Tufts University, who took over the practice originally started by Dr. Edward Gipstein. Wallas Andrias had been the Chief of Cardiology at the time and invited them to come. They were young and had new ideas and a vision, and together, they grew a booming cardiology practice in southeastern Connecticut. They brought echocardiography and started a diagnostic catheterization laboratory and began a formidable cardiology practice in town.

I interviewed with them in 2001, and both Pete and Brian told me about their vision for the future: to start an interventional cardiology program at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital. They had a deep connection with the cardiology department at Yale, and implicit in the discussion was that Yale would be a key player in our success.

Pete was the charming schmoozer who ignored the naysayers. He told funny, self-deprecating stories and was beloved by all the nurses. He also couldn't get out of a patient's room on time because he had one more funny story to tell. My favorite story he tells is about when he was at the Steak Loft in the 1980s with his lovely wife. At the time, the Heimlich Maneuver had recently been published in the medical literature. A rather buxom young woman near them seemed to be choking, and the good Dr. Milstein, believing the woman in grave peril, and having been keeping up with the medical literature, got behind her, put his hands around her waist and under her abundant chest and thrust his arms into her abdomen, intending to save her from choking with the Heimlich Maneuver. At this point, the woman, who was apparently NOT choking, screamed at him something like: "Get away from me!" He told me that, after that, he finished his meal in record time.

Brian was the quiet one, with steely handsome eyes, hair always in place, polo collar popped; he commanded the business. Some of the other cardiologists referred to him as "Dad." He seemed unflappable, a bit intimidating and was a man of few words. When presented with a patient, he'd give his characteristic shrug and make a diagnosis. Uncannily, he was almost always right. At first, he seemed a little too icy to me, but I will never forget when a young patient of his got really sick, how he did compressions and worked like a madman to revive her, never left her side, even hours after she was stable in the cath lab. When I asked him about it (he saved her life), he looked at me and just gave that nonchalant shrug and changed the subject.

Cardiology in New London has grown dramatically since the days when Dr. Gipstein first brought his newfangled electrocardiogram to town, and today, L+M is the only hospital in southern Connecticut that does primary and elective angioplasty. The alliance forged with Yale was, to a large part, started many years ago by a vision and a relationship between Pete, Brian and the cardiologists at Yale New Haven, and this, I believe, set the stage for the larger alliance between Yale and L+M as a whole. History is made up of people, and their stories and the success story of cardiology at L+M all started 40 years ago with two men and a vision. May the retirement of both men be just as fruitful.


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