Dr. Jerel Katz, who overcame a childhood bout with polio and went on to have a 40-year career as a general surgeon, died Aug. 5 of kidney failure at Riderwood Village, a Silver Spring senior living community.
The former longtime Pikesville resident was 83.
The son of a dermatologist and a homemaker, Jerel Katz was born and raised in Philadelphia.
Dr. Katz was "a man unique in the extreme who lived a remarkable life — especially considering the physical obstacles thrown in his way, starting with polio — at an early age cause by a failed live-virus vaccination," said his son, Alan Katz, a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles.
"His mother, Elinor, was a fierce woman who absolutely refused to let her son be defined by the fact that his left leg was diminished by polio," said Mr. Katz.
After graduating in 1947 from West Philadelphia High School, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1950 from the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Katz earned his medical degree from Penn in 1954 and completed an internship at Philadelphia General Hospital in 1955, where he met and fell in love with Deanne "Dee" Rosenfeld, an X-ray technician. They married in 1956.
He served in the Air Force at Griffith Air Force Base in Rome, N.Y., from 1957 to 1959 and then served a residency at Sinai Hospital from 1959 to 1962.
Dr. Katz then established a private surgical practice in an office on Reisterstown Road. He later moved to the Hoffberger Building at Sinai Hospital, where he remained for many years until relocating to Crossroads Drive in Owings Mills.
Dr. Arthur Baitch, a retired orthopedic surgeon, was a longtime friend and sailing buddy.
"The remarkable thing about Jerel, and everyone who knew him knew it, was that he was up to any challenge despite a severe physical disability that was polio-restrictive," said Dr. Baitch, who lives in Pikesville.
"He walked with a severe limp and when he was in the operating room, he'd lock his brace. Jerel never complained or mentioned his physical impairment. Ever," said Dr. Baitch.
"His patients loved him and when he was on call, which was frequently, people would ask for him frequently," he said. "He was a wonderful friend, really."
Margery L. Doroshow, of Pikesville, a retired registered nurse, has known Dr. Katz and his family since 1959.
"We became very close friends, but I am a nurse, and I saw another side of Dr. Katz. I was a nurse-manager in the operating room at Sinai and I worked with him," recalled Mrs. Doroshow.
"He was an exceedingly bright and talented man who never let his disability stop him in any way. He was a huge man, not in a physical way, but in intellectual stature. He was admired by his peers, and his patients adored him," she said.
In the operating room, Dr. Katz was a steadying influence and an island of calm.
"He was in great pain and suffered fatigue because he was essentially standing on one leg," Mrs. Doroshow said. "He was a brilliant surgeon who was never a screamer. A surgeon who is a screamer is insecure. He never raised his voice."
She added that Dr. Katz "spoke politely, and at the end of an operation, thanked everyone."
Mrs. Doroshow said, "He never threw instruments like many do. He was not cocky but was always sure of himself. He knew exactly what he was going to do and when he was going to do it. And if there was an unexpected change, he'd calmly make the change. He was a joy to work with."
Dr. Katz had a good sense of humor, according to his son and his friends.
"He had a marvelous sense of humor — weird — but marvelous," said Mrs. Doroshow. "It was actually quite caustic."
"He had an exquisitely sick sense of humor and an insatiable curiosity about the world," his son said.
Dr. Katz enjoyed photography and had a darkroom in the basement of his Pikesville home, where he lived for 50 years. He moved to the retirement community two years ago.
He also was a world traveler and had visited Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and spots throughout the U.S., family members said.
"We enjoyed kayaking and sailing the Chesapeake Bay together," said Dr. Baitch.
Dr. Katz was "deeply passionate about music especially the music of Gustav Mahler," his son said. He was an avid opera fan and a voracious reader. He also was a Ravens fan.
He was a member of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
"But if there was one quality that came to epitomize Jerel Katz, it was grace," his son said. "He lived his whole life with grace and died with it."
There are no services.
In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Katz is survived by two daughters, Debra Katz of Silver Spring and Sheryl Meyers of Mahwah, N.J.; and five grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun