Dr. Daniel Finkelstein, a Johns Hopkins Wilmer Institute ophthalmologist and medical ethics specialist, died of complications of Parkinson’s disease Feb. 25 at the Blakehurst Retirement Community. He was 81.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in the Lower Merion suburb, he was the son of Arthur Finkelstein and Leah Shore Finkelstein, who were both physicians and radiologists, at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.
As a young man, he learned music and played flute and double bass at Lower Merion High School, where he graduated in 1958. He was later a player in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, where he met his future wife, Ellen Friedman, a flute player.
He received a degree in biology at Harvard College and was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
The next year, he and his wife spent a year in West Berlin. He did neurophysiology research at the Free University of Berlin and she studied music.
After he returned to the U.S., he finished medical school and fulfilled his military obligation at the National Institutes of Health where he did ophthalmology research.
His two children were born while he was living in the Washington area.
He moved to Baltimore in 1970 when he began his ophthalmology residency at the Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“He was universally admired as a patient-oriented clinician,” Dr. Morton F. Goldberg, the emeritus director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, said. “He conducted the first national collaborative clinical trial on retinal vein occlusion. It was a national first and a great success.”
Dr. Goldberg also said, “He was a kindly compassionate and widely respected physician.”
Dr. Finkelstein was an ophthalmologist and a retinal surgeon at the Wilmer Institute of Johns Hopkins Hospital for more than 50 years. He helped pioneer laser treatments for conditions including retinal vein occlusion, retinopathy, and macular degeneration.
Dr. Finkelstein was the inaugural recipient of the Andreas Dracopoulos chair in ophthalmology. Mr. Dracopoulos, a patient of Dr. Finkelstein, became a Wilmer benefactor and donor to other philanthropic projects in Baltimore.
Dr. Finkelstein was a volunteer physician at the free medical clinic at the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts in Washington, D.C. He did eye screenings with patients with diabetes. He also went to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and provided medical care.
“He always gave patients his home phone number,” his daughter, Carla Finkelstein, said. “He was dedicated.”
He developed a deep interest in medical ethics and was a founding faculty member of Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.
“Dan’s passion for teaching and for the study of the ethics of clinical practice was unparalleled,” Berman Institute founder Ruth Faden said. “He was a devoted advocate for the opportunity for doctors and nurses to get together to talk about the ethical challenges they face in the care of patients.”
“For several decades Dr. Finkelstein provided uncompensated personal care to innumerable diabetic patients suffering from serious retinal disease,” his colleague, Dr. Goldberg, said.
He was a past chair of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Ethics Committee. He also funded a medical ethics lunch gathering that drew participants within the Hopkins medical community.
Through his interest in medical ethics, Dr. Finkelstein began to study Roman Catholicism in the 1990s.
“Medical ethics was a professional interest of his and he did some of that study at Georgetown University. Many of his classes were taught by Jesuit Fathers and he became interested in their ways of thinking,” his daughter, Carla Finkelstein, said. “That connection got him an invitation to Lourdes. He went out of curiosity and went with folks connected with the Order of Malta.”
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She said that her father was very moved by Lourdes and the experience. He went back several times and he began studying Catholicism. Along that path, he decided to purse a master’s degree in theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University.
He converted to Catholicism and participated in multiple trips to Lourdes with members of the Order of Malta, a philanthropic organization.
“I met Dan through the hospital’s ethics committee and I had spoken to him about my experiences at Lourdes,”Jacek L. Mostwin, a Johns Hopkins urologist and medical ethicist, said. “He inquired about going to Lourdes and I thought he would be a wonderful companion on the pilgrimage. He came back a second time and a third time.”
Dr. Mostwin also said, “He was humble, honorable, intelligent and a first class clinician. "
“His interest in Catholicism was largely fueled by his committee to medical ethics and in particular, the quality of patient care,” his daughter, Carla Finkelstein, said. “In addition to becoming a Catholic, he also did some academic work on the holistic and spiritual side of patient care.”
A memorial Mass will be held at 11 a.m. March 12 at the St. Mary’s Seminary and University Chapel in Roland Park.
Survivors include his daughter, Carla Finkelstein of Baltimore; a son, James Finkelstein of Riderwood; a sister, Jean Ratner of Bethesda; and two grandsons. His marriage ended in divorce.