July 2003

Dr. Harry A. Sultz -
His Story is Extraordinary

by Joseph H. Radder

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Someone once said “If life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

Dr. Harry A. Sultz may not have heard that bit of wisdom early in life, but he certainly has lived by it. “I’ve had some set-backs in life,” he said, “and have had to re-invent myself periodically. Interestingly, each of the set-backs moved me in another direction, usually better than the one I left.”

The worst of all of the set-backs he experienced happened over fifty years ago. He had graduated from UB’s School of Dentistry in 1947 at the age of 23. Within two years, he found his vision deteriorating and was told that he had a condition called conical cornea. Wearing contact lenses corrected his vision and allowed him to practice his profession until a fateful day in 1950. He was told his corneas were weakening and that he had about a year before he would be unable to see at all. Easing the shock, the opthalmologist said that corneal transplants could be performed and this procedure might restore his sight.

This was the first time Harry Sultz turned lemons into lemonade by taking a year-long anesthesiology residency at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Hospitals.

Looking for a way to take advantage of his professional training that would not require the precise vision of a dental practice, he learned that the Chief of Anesthesia at Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh also began his career as a dentist and directed a medical residency program for dentists. Graduating from that residency program would lead him into a new career, but first he had a huge hurdle to overcome. “By the time I had finished the program, both of my corneas had ruptured. I was totally blind for three months,” he said, “then, after waiting some time for a donor, I had a successful corneal transplant in New York City.” The transplant in his other eye, however, was not successful because he developed an infection. That was before antibiotics. “Today it would be cured quickly.”

Dr. Sultz then opened a unique dental practice for handicapped and intractable patients. With a staff of dentists, nurses and nurse anesthetists, he served a wide variety of disabled children and adults for almost ten years. During that time he was increasingly involved with groups serving people with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

“An active advocate for disabled patients, Sultz was a founder of the Niagara Frontier Vocational Rehabilitation Center and one of its first board presidents. He initiated and served as the first chairman of the Buffalo Citizens Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped. “ I got to know Dr. William Mosher, the Erie County Health Commissioner. He encouraged me to get a degree in public health and work for him in the Health Department. I was ready. It was time to pick up my ball and bat and move on.

Furthermore it would combine my clinical and community interests, so I took Dr. Mosher’s advice and completed a master’s degree in public health at Columbia University in 1962.

Dr. Sultz joined the Erie County Department of Health as its Research Director, and the faculty of the UB School of Medicine as an instructor in Social and Preventive Medicine. He taught epidemiology and the organization of health care to medical and graduate students, and was rapidly promoted to full professor. He was recruited to become Dean of the School of Health Related Professions in 1979. After seven years as Dean, he returned to the School of Medicine and resumed his role as director of its program of Health Services Research. He was awarded over eight million dollars in grants and contracts during his caree, to study health care or to test new ideas for improving it. Of his several honors, he was proudest of the Herman M. Biggs award by the New York State Public Health Association in 1994 for lifetime achievement.

In 1997, Dr. Sultz initiated UB’s widely acclaimed Mini-Medical School and directed it until 2002. This program teaches lay persons interested in biology about health care and the human body.

A native of Buffalo, Sultz was born in 1924. He went to school 30 and was active in sports at Lafayette High School where he earned letters in football, track and crew.

Remembering his youth, his most vivid memories are of the Boy Scouts. “I was very active in scouting, as were my closest friends,” he said. “Camping and scouting were big things back then. Those were happy days.”

Harry Sultz and Beatrice Kaiser were married in 1946. Their son, Jerald, is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Amherst, and their daughter, Marne, who worked for publishing houses in Boston, now lives in Little Compton, Rhode Island. The Sultzes have two grandchildren, Rebecca, age 7, and Laney, 18 months.

As he enters his eightieth year, Dr. Sultz is Professor Emeritus, School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo and Dean Emeritus of its school of Health Related Professions. He is also an active Adjunct Professor in UB’s School of Law.

He just finished the fourth edition of his latest book, the Jones and Bartlett publication Health Care USA. Sultz is also negotiating a weekly radio program patterned after the Mini Medical School. It will strive to take much of the mystery out of the health care system and make listeners better informed health care consumers.

His list of positions, both professional and in community service, his research projects, consultation assignments, a list of his writings including a shelf-full of books and his honors, fill seven single-spaced pages.

Do you know anyone who has made more lemonade with bigger lemons?

Joseph H. Radder, a free-lance writer and regular contributor to Living Prime Time, is the author of a new book, a fictional biography of a young Jew named Jesus, “Young Jesus, the missing years.”


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