DENVERITE Herbert Kaplan, MD, one of the founding fathers in the field of rheumatology, recently received the Presidential Gold Medal from the American College of Rheumatology.
With more than 16,000 delegates attending the annual conference Dr. Kaplan was the first community based practitioner ever to receive the highest honor and lifetime achievement award given by the ACR.
“It was really a shock,” Kaplan, 83, told the IJN. “Up until now the award has always been given to someone whose main contribution was in research. I was mainly a practitioner but also did teaching, and some research.”
After studying to become a doctor at Albany, and postgraduate training at Duke and Yale universities, Kaplan served in the army as the assistant chief of medical service in Munich, 1959-62. He discovered his interest in rheumatology, a field that specializes in types of arthritis and joint conditions, after treating 15 soldiers with an unusual type of arthritis called sarcoidosis.
Kaplan made a groundbreaking find by using colchicine that had only been used to treat gout to help the soldiers with their sarcoidosis. After successfully treating the soldiers with the new medication, Kaplan wrote two medical articles on his findings, later published by the prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine.
KAPLAN’S newfound interest brought him to Denver, one of only nine places where rheumatology training was available in the 1960’s.
While the field was in its infancy, Kaplan opened a private practice in Denver in 1963, while training under the late Dr. Charley Smyth, one of the founders of the speciality and one of the first recognized rheumatologists in the country. With Dr. Walter Briney he founded the Denver Arthritis Clinic in 1976.
“In the early ‘60’s and through the ‘70’s, no one knew what rheumatology was,” Kaplan said. “As more drugs became available to treat the pain, more doctors thought they could do something more than hold people’s hands, give them aspirin or a few other medicines and physical therapy. With the availability of newer drugs more people were encouraged to go into the specialty.”
In 1972, a board exam was finally available to certify rheumatologists as specialists in the field, confirming Kaplan’s certification in his area of expertise.
Kaplan spent many years teaching at CU, and in 1998 was named the First Distinguished Clinical Professor of Medicine.
IN Denver, Kaplan maintained his private practice, contributed to 48 publications, served as the president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, and as president of the ACR, 1993-1994, before retiring in 2000.
Kaplan was the only physician to serve in its early days on the Colorado Uninsurable Health Insurance Plan committee under Governor Roy Romer.
The committee reviewed applications for patients who did not qualify for health insurance and distributed money to help pay the premiums for those who needed governmental assistance most.
His whole family accompanied Kaplan as he received the Presidential Gold Medal in Washington DC.
Kaplan believes that his greatest contribution to the field of rheumatology was getting the ACR to represent practitioners and thus focus directly on the needs of patients.
“There are other people who helped me and we couldn’t do it on our own, but we expanded the membership and added a marketing and lobbying committee to get the interest of private practice doctors and patients represented by the college.”
At the presentation of the award — which Kaplan says was his biggest moment since getting into medical school in the 1950s — part of a letter written by one of Kaplan’s patients, Debra Lappin, was read. Lappin, who said she wouldn’t be where she is now without Dr. Kaplan, acknowledged Kaplan for always tracking science and bringing it directly to patients. Calling Kaplan “a remarkable man,” Lappin wrote the letter to the ACR to recognize him for his outstanding patient care.
A lover of travel and photography, since his retirement Kaplan has been dictating diaries from his many travel journals collected over the years.
Combining his journal entries with his photographs using voice recognition, Kaplan says he has found a wonderful job to keep him occupied.
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