Dr. Martin Helrich

Dr. Martin Helrich, a pioneering anesthesiologist who had headed the department of anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, died Sunday of complications from heart disease at his Pikesville home.

He was 91.

"Martin was so devoted to his department and his profession. He molded and shaped the anesthesiology department at Maryland and made it what it is today," said Dr. Mark S. Etter, an anesthesiologist and former longtime chairman of the anesthesiology department at Abington Memorial Hospital in Abington, Pa.

"Marty expanded the department and brought in a lot of high-powered people and received national recognition for his work," said Dr. Morris Roseman, a former Summit Park neighbor, who retired from the Veteran Administration's Outtake Center in downtown Baltimore, where he had been chief psychologist.

"He was a thorough and careful scientist and practitioner," said Dr. Roseman. "He did not speak just to be heard. He spoke when he had something to say. He listened and expressed his views without rancor. He was never out to have a fight."

Martin Helrich was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in Atlantic City, N.J., where his parents owned and operated Helrich's Restaurant.

After graduating in 1940 from Atlantic City High School, he earned both his bachelor's and medical degrees in 1946 in a joint program between Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pa., where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

He completed his training with an internship at Atlantic City Hospital in 1947 and a residency in anesthesiology from 1948 to 1950 at Bellevue Medical Center in New York City. From 1950 to 1951, he was an anesthesiology fellow at Bellevue.

After serving in the Army Medical Corps from 1951 to 1953, where he was chief of the anesthesiology section at Camp Polk, La., and attained the rank of captain, Dr. Helrich returned to the University of Pennsylvania where he was an assistant professor of anesthesiology from 1954 to 1956.

Dr. Helrich was 34 years old in 1956, when he was selected to head the recently established department of anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

"He does not mention that in 1956 he took a young anesthesiology department — whose methods were crude by today's standards — and built it into a place where the specialty flourished," said a University of Maryland School of Medicine tribute at the time of his 1988 retirement.

"He also does not mention that he started with a small department faculty and four doctors-in-training, and built it into a faculty of two dozen and more than 20 residents," said the profile.

At the time, the residency program was graduating far fewer anesthesiologists than Maryland needed. During those years, there were only 80 anesthesiologists in the state, with many hospitals not having a staff anesthesiologist.

By the time Dr. Helrich retired, more than 550 anesthesiologists were practicing in the state, with the majority having been trained at the University of Maryland.

"He was always a mentor and the kind of person you could easily go to when you had questions. He always had time and was really a father figure to me and so many others," said Dr. Etter, who completed his residency in anesthesiology at Maryland.

"He was an expert at what he did, and he wanted you to be an expert. He was kind and supportive and very, very sharp," said Dr. Etter.

Dr. Burton S. "Burt" Epstein , a friend of many years, is a retired Washington anesthesiologist.

"There are two things about Martin. First, he was a real mensch, and second, he was very loyal. He was such a nice guy and a very good administrator," said Dr. Epstein.

"Another amazing thing was that he was department chairman for as long as he was, and going through that kind of pressure, [he] was still able to do so much on the outside for our specialty. It really is so amazing," said Dr. Epstein.

He had served as president of the American Board of Anesthesiology and was a governor of the American College of Anesthesiologists and president of the Maryland-D.C. Society of Anesthesiologists.

His work earned him the Distinguished Service Award from the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

Dr. Helrich had also been a consultant to the old Baltimore City Hospitals, the U.S, Medical Center in Bethesda, the old U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Wyman Park, and the Army Hospital at Fort Meade.

After retiring, Dr. Helrich founded and served from 1988 to 1999 as the first executive director of the Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research, where he played an instrumental role in the foundation's growth and success. Two years ago, the foundation awarded $1.76 million in research grants.

With more than 90 papers, he maintained a keen interest in research, which was reflected in his review of applications for new drugs for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and his service with the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

The longtime Pikesville resident enjoyed photography and home improvement projects, and he was an avid reader. He was also a member of a men's discussion group and the Chatham Club.

He and his wife of 62 years, the former Ina Brunstein, a painter who founded the Maryland Artists Equity Foundation, enjoyed visiting museums and attending the theater and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts.

Services were held Wednesday at Temple Oheb Shalom, where he was a longtime member.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Helrich is survived by two daughters, Lisa Helrich of Washington and Dr. Karen Helrich of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif.; a brother, Kenneth Helrich of Marlboro, N.J.; a sister, Ruth Hyman of Margate City, N.J.; and two granddaughters.

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