Dr. Frederick W. Schaerf, psychiatrist and noted Alzheimer's researcher, dies

Dr. Frederick W. Schaerf, a psychiatrist and former associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, died July 14 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, at his home in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 67.

“He was one of those people who brought the Hopkins name to the nation,” said Dr. Paul R. McHugh, a Guilford resident and former chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. “He had many promising years ahead of him, and I was so saddened to hear of his death. He was simply a wonderful psychiatrist.”

Frederick Warren Schaerf was born in Basel, Switzerland. He was the son of Dr. Herman Hersch Schaerf, a physician, and Gabriella Elsa von Pidoll Schaerf, a nurse-midwife.

When he was age 2, he boarded the RMS Queen Mary with his parents on the journey to America. They settled on West University Parkway in Roland Park.

He graduated in 1969 from Northern High School, then in 1974 received a bachelor’s degree in science from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

He received a National Institutes of Health predoctoral fellowship and studied reproductive endocrinology with Cornelia “Nina” Channing, an internationally known professor of physiology, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He received a Ph.D. in 1980 from the university, and his medical degree three years later. He completed an internship and residency at Hopkins, studying under Dr. McHugh.

He served with the Maryland National Guard and later with the Army Medical Corps from 1983 to 1987. He was discharged with the rank of captain.

In 1987, Dr. Schaerf was appointed an associate professor in the department and played an instrumental role at Hopkins in establishing a psychiatric service dedicated to the care and treatment of those infected with HIV.

“His work with AIDS patients came at a time when psychiatrists were shying away from them,” said Dr. McHugh. “He had compassion and supported them.”

During the 1980s, Dr. Schaerf conducted an AIDS counseling group that met once a week at Hopkins.

“We also have heterosexual couples who may have been exposed to the disease through blood transfusions,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 1987. “The object is to reduce stress and anxiety, and to make the quality of life better for everyone involved.”

He also worked with Dr. Frederick S. Berlin, a psychiatrist who had founded the Sexual Disorders Clinic at Hopkins, treating men who suffered from various sexual disorders.

Dr. Schaerf moved to Fort Myers in 1989. He established a group practice, Neuropsychiatric Associates of Southwest Florida, that has provided care to more than 28,000 patients since its inception, and also founded the Neuropsychiatric Research Center of Southwest Florida in 2001.

“After moving to Florida, he did wonderful work with Alzheimer’s research and advancing care for Alzheimer’s patients. He was devoted to them and their families and worked hard at developing a treatment plan for them,” Dr. McHugh said.

He was also medical director during the 1990s of the Ruth Cooper Center, now SalusCare, in Fort Myers, providing behavioral health care services, and also served as assistant medical director of Charter Glade Hospital, also in Fort Myers.

Dr. Schaerf met and fell in love with the former Melissa Chaires, a nurse practitioner, in 1994. They married four years later.

In 1999, he was one of 39 psychiatrists in the U.S. to receive the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

He was appointed by the governor of Florida to the Local Advocacy Council, and was named by the state’s surgeon general to the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Grant Advisory Board, which allocates research funding throughout the state.

He was a life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a member of the American Medical Association, Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, and the New York Academy of Science.

Dr. Schaerf enjoyed boating, skiing, traveling and collecting and working on vintage cars.

Ten days before his death, Dr. Schaerf published a farewell letter in the Fort Myers-News Press. In it, he expressed hope that the Alzheimer’s research he worked on would continue after his own life ended, and said there is “an end in full sight regarding claiming victory over Alzheimer’s disease.”

“Colleagues and friends, you are among the most important considerations that vividly occupy my thoughts,” he wrote. “I realize that it has been you, and people like you, who have made many valuable contributions to breathing life into one of my most cherished dreams — that of establishing a state-of-the-art, internationally recognized research center designed specifically to defeat a disease that ravishes mind, body, spirit and family relationships.”

Services were held in Fort Myers.

In additon to his wife, he is survived by his son, Frederick W. Schaerf II of Fort Myers; a daughter, Alexandra Schaerf of Fort Myers; a brother, Daniel Schaerf of Sarasota, Fla.; a sister, Heidi Martin of The Villages, Fla.; and many nieces and nephews.

NOTE: An earlier version of this article misstated where Dr. Schaerf attended high school. It has been corrected here.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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