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June 1998

The Pivers:
Working Together For a Better World

by Maria SCRIVANI

For a cutting-edge couple—she’s a pioneering health-care attorney, he’s a world-renowned oncologist—Susan and Steven Piver hold to some pretty simple old-fashioned ideas about life. Family comes first say these parents of three. The walls of their North Buffalo home are lined with photos of their brood, currently starring their first grandchild, Ryan Nicholas, age one. Considered to be no less a member of the family is their two-and-a-half-year-old black Lab, Little Mo.

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1968, Deb, Kenny and Bobbie.

Susan and first grandson, Ryan.

The Piver philosophy, a kind of mantra that pervades their busy lives, is threefold. “Your family comes first,” says Steven. “Then your career, then your health and friends.” He omits from this list the commitment to bettering the community that he and his wife share. That seems to have arisen spontaneously—a natural outgrowth of their highly visible professional activities. As doctor and lawyer with many “firsts” to their individual credit, Steven and Susan are frequently asked to chair or sit on boards of diverse worthy organizations. They’ve done so with gusto and continue to do it at a time in life when others of their ilk are looking to slow down and take it easy.

For more than four decades—the Pivers will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this June—they have supported and encouraged one another in each other’s work. He’s originally from Washington, D.C. and she’s from Philadelphia. They met at Temple University School of Medicine. She completed one year of four dropping out in favor of her new husband’s continuing studies.

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Kenny, Steve and Rob
Deb, Susan and Bobbie.

Susan neither minces words nor apologizes for that decision. “You have to understand that at the time none of the professions were really receiving women with open arms,” she says. “I was very young when I entered medical school. It was a very hostile environment for women and even more so to think you could be married and go to medical school. I felt it was not an option to continue in school and get married.”

Steven Piver, recruited as associate chief of the Department of Gynecology by Roswell Park Cancer Institute in 1971, tells it this way: “The two best things that ever happened to me were marrying Susan Myers and coming to Buffalo.”

In 1973 when their youngest child was in kindergarten Susan went back to school, enrolling in UB Law as a member of the first class to start on the Amherst campus. Though not great and not nearly the more equitable enrollment story there today, it was a slightly more welcoming atmosphere than her earlier med school experience. The class was about 20 percent female. “Most were fresh out of college,” Susan recalls. “None had children and they weren’t struggling to balance kids’ schedules with class and study time.”

She prevailed and ended up using her extensive medical background to advantage. After separate stints with the Erie County Departments of Health and Social Services—where she was a Special Prosecutor for Medicaid fraud—Susan was hired in 1985 as the first in-house hospital counsel in Western New York (Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel) at the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. She held this post until 1995 and has since been in solo practice, specializing in health care law and risk management.

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Kenny, Rob and Steve enjoying a round of golf, 1994.
Steve had a hole-in-one in 1997.

While Susan forged ahead in the legal world Steven was becoming more prominent in medicine, establishing himself as a premier ovarian cancer specialist. He discovered the disease’s genetic link and established in 1981 the Familial Ovarian Cancer registry at Roswell. The registry which now lists over 5,000 people was renamed in 1990 in memory of Gilda Radner, the comedienne who died of the disease. Her husband, actor Gene Wilder, contacted Steven after his wife’s death seeking answers about the causes and treatments of the disease. He and Steven became friends and together wrote a book, Gilda’s Disease: Sharing Personal Experience And A Medical Perspective on Ovarian Cancer. The project was born from a shared desire to spare other women and their families what Gilda and her loved ones endured. Steven’s zealous fight against the disease has led to his appearance as an expert on such television programs as Oprah, 20/20, Nightline and The Today Show.

Today he serves as Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and continues to direct the registry at Roswell. “Our goal is to find the gene that actually causes inherited ovarian cancer and distinguish it from inherited breast cancer,” Steven says. “My other goal is to continue as a cancer surgeon at Roswell.”

He and Susan love Buffalo. “We want to help make living in Western New York better for all people,” he says. “I think you should have a commitment, when you are successful and have a nice life, to help your community and help people who are less fortunate,” adds Susan.

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Deb in costume, 1996.

At this time she is a member of the 1998 class of Leadership Buffalo, a year-long training and education forum on all aspects of life in Western New York, geared to those who are already movers and shakers as well as those who want to be. Susan also chairs Coordinated Care, an agency that acts in partnership with Erie County to determine appropriate care for Medicaid clients. She sits on the advisory board of Bry-Lin Hospitals and has, with her husband, acted as honorary chair for the annual Kavinoky Theatre benefit for AIDS Family Services.

Steven is currently chairing the Board of Trustees of D’Youville College. He is past chair of Friends of the Night People soup kitchen and a current board member. He’s a past president of the Jewish Family Services board; Susan is a past vice president of that agency.

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Steve and “Little Mo”, 1995.

It’s clear that both Pivers relish all their involvements. For pure recreation they love attending live theatre productions and they golf. “She’s better,” Steven says. They also enjoy spending time with their children. Debra is an actress and faculty member at Cal State in Los Angeles. Bobbie Piver Dukarm, a pediatrician at the University of Rochester, her husband Rob, a neonatologist at the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and Ryan live in Akron, NY. Kenneth is a physician starting his psychiatry residency at UCLA this summer.

It all makes for a very full life, but one the Pivers believe is healthily balanced between doing for oneself and for others. “I’m only coming this way once,” says Steven. “I want to do as much good for those less fortunate than me as I can. When I leave, all I’ll leave behind is my reputation—and I want it to be a good one.”

Maria Scrivani is a freelance writer.

Photos courtesy of the Pivers.

 

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