A version of this obituary that appeared in today's print editions mispelled Dr. Reinald Leidelmeyer's first name. The version below has been corrected.
ER Medicine Pioneer Reinald Leidelmeyer
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Dr. Reinald Leidelmeyer, 82, a Fairfax doctor who was a pioneer in the nationwide effort to establish emergency medicine as a specialty, died Dec. 20 of complications from prostate cancer at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
Dr. Leidelmeyer, a Dutch immigrant to the United States, arrived in Fairfax in 1960, a time when the only doctors who voluntarily worked in emergency rooms were either young physicians struggling to establish a practice or itinerant doctors unable to sustain a practice of their own.
Passionate about saving lives, he recognized that accident victims and others needing emergency treatment were dying before they got to the hospital. He reasoned that if he could establish a system that would train first responders to stabilize the patient at the scene and then turn the patient over to doctors who were specialists in acute care, chances of survival would increase exponentially.
In 1966, Dr. Leidelmeyer wrote an article in the Virginia Medical Monthly outlining six basic requirements for emergency medicine to be regarded as a specialty. The response to the article was positive, and in 1968 he organized the first national meeting of emergency room doctors at a hotel near Fairfax Hospital. Somewhat presumptuously, those doctors -- 32 in all, from 18 states -- declared themselves the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Julian B. Orenstein, a pediatric emergency physician at Fairfax Hospital, wrote in a 1996 Washington Post article that "from such a humble beginning -- the Hair Club for Men probably had more members back then -- arose a specialty that has grown like the medical equivalent of Microsoft."
Today the American College of Emergency Physicians certifies all emergency doctors.
Dr. Leidelmeyer was no stranger to trauma. Born in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1924, the youngest of seven children, he grew up in Amsterdam and the Hague. Graduating from high school in 1943, he and his siblings took part in resistance activities against the Nazis during World War II.
Scrounging for food one day, he was picked up, clapped into a Dutch prison run by the Gestapo and then loaded onto a railroad cattle car destined for a slave-labor camp in Germany. Realizing that his mother had no idea what had happened to him, he found a scrap of paper inside the car, scribbled a message and shoved it through the slats. Miraculously, the scrap of paper found its way back to his mother; it's still in the possession of the Leidelmeyer family.
He managed to leave the camp after about a year by coughing in the face of a guard and claiming that he was afflicted with tuberculosis. He made his way back home to Holland by hiding in barns and haystacks and surviving on handouts provided by kindly farmers. He arrived home seriously ill, not with TB but with diphtheria.
Dr. Leidelmeyer graduated from Leiden University Medical School in 1950 and immigrated to the United States in 1953. In 1955, he began a two-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army, serving as commanding officer of an Army dispensary in Germany.
He worked at a tuberculosis sanitarium in Charlottesville before becoming co-chairman of the Emergency Department at Fairfax Hospital in 1961. He stayed at the hospital until 1982 and also had a practice in the Fairfax Medical Center.
A member of the federal commission charged with formulating national requirements and training programs for emergency medical technicians and paramedics, Dr. Leidelmeyer also set up a national registry. In 1971, he helped organize a regional EMS council and was a member through 1976.
In 1978, he was the first recipient of the James D. Mills Outstanding Contribution to Emergency Medicine Award.
Dr. Leidelmeyer retired from practicing medicine in 1998 but continued to lecture widely. He also played tennis, gardened and traveled.
During the war years, Dr. Leidelmeyer developed a lifelong love -- a dangerous love in those years -- for Dixieland jazz and blues, particularly the music of Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges and Louis Armstrong. In Holland, he and friends formed the Dutch Swing College Band, which still exists. A clarinet player, he was a longtime member of the Potomac River Jazz Club.
Dr. Leidelmeyer's marriage to Grita Wolters Leidelmeyer ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 17 years, Judith Passwater Williams Leidelmeyer of Fairfax; four sons, Reinald Leidelmeyer Jr. of Newberry, Fla., Ronald Leidelmeyer of Sterling, Robert Leidelmeyer of Pine, Colo., and Mark Leidelmeyer of West Plains, Mo.; and one grandson.