Dr. Robert J. Wityk, a neurologist and associate professor emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who helped establish protocols for the treatment of strokes at Hopkins and Sinai hospitals, died March 26 from a brain tumor at Brightview Mays Chapel Ridge assisted living in Timoinium
The longtime Timonium resident was 60.
“He had a tremendous impact on better diagnoses and treatment of stroke patients. He was a spectacular clinician. He saved a lot of people," said Dr. Brian Litt, professor of neurology and bio-engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, who worked alongside Dr. Wityk at Sinai Hospital and lives in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
“We worked together closely five years after our residencies, and he influenced me greatly,” Dr. Litt said. “Bob leaves behind a really impressive legacy. The world is a better place for him having been here."
Robert Joseph Wityk, son of Joseph J. Wityk, a radiologist, and his wife, Shu-Tuan Weng, an X-ray technician who later worked as her husband’s office manager in his practice, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and lived in Pittsburgh and Morrisville, Pennsylvania, before moving to Riderwood.
In 1969, he moved with his family to Timonium. He was a 1973 graduate of Immaculate Conception Junior High School in Towson. He then entered Loyola High School, where he excelled in advanced courses in calculus, physics and biology.
In his spare time, he achieved national standing as a member of the school’s speech and debate team, and was a co-founder of The Loyola Gentleman’s Literary Companion, a campus humor magazine that later morphed into a serious literary magazine.
After winning a nationwide contest for students of German, he traveled to Germany for a month and met his future wife, the former Anne Porter Sommers, whom he married in 1983.
“Bob had a world-class mind and a wicked sense of humor,” said Tim Windsor, a Loyola High School classmate who lives in Des Moines, Iowa.
Dr. Wityk was a 1981 summa cum laude graduate of Yale University, from which he earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.
He received his medical degree in 1985 from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and later served as an intern and resident at the University of California San Diego Medical Center.
Dr. Wityk was a resident and then chief resident in neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston from 1988 to 1991 and spent a year at Tufts New England Medical Center, also in Boston, as a Cerebrovascular Fellow.
“He was one of the most accomplished residents they ever had at the Mass. General,” Dr. Litter said.
Dr. Wityk focused his studies and practice on the treatment of strokes.
“He chose neurology as a specialty because of the intellectual challenge,” said his wife, a circulation assistant at the Towson Public Library. Given the complexities of the human brain, the challenges of treating it “was like solving puzzles all the time,” she said.
From 1982 to 2017, he contributed to nearly 90 articles published in medical journals, a majority dealing with the treatment of strokes and other neurological impairments. He also participated in more than 20 clinical trials and was co-editor of “Stroke,” a textbook published in 2007 by the American College of Physicians.
“Bob did seminal work on strokes, and he is widely quoted,” Dr. Litt siad.
Dr. Wityk returned to Timonium in 1992, and while working at Sinai Hospital rose to co-director of its Department of Neurology. He also taught part-time at Hopkins and in 1996 accepted a full-time position as an attending physician in the Neurology Department while also as an assistant professor of neurology and medicine. He was also director of the clinical stroke service.
“Even after training at some of the country’s best institutions,” said Dr. Litt, who ran the Division of Neurology at Sinai with Dr. Wityk, “Bob’s first love was to come back home , to try to serve the community he grew up in. He did that first through his years at Sinai. And then, when it was clear that he needed to grow more, he moved on, to become head of strokes at Hopkins,” he said.
“He helped grow Sinai from a relatively sleepy program,” Dr. Litt said. “At the time he left to go to Hopkins, the program was actually named as a ranked center in U.S. News & World Report in neurology. Really, his impact was powerful.”
Art both Sinai and Hopkins, he was instrumental in establishing protocols for treating stroke victims. At Hopkins, he was the first director of the hospital’s inpatient stroke service and of the Cerebrovascular Division, and he also led the establishment of Hopkins’ Brain Rescue Unit in 2000.
Dr. Wityk was diagnosed in 2004 with the tumor that would eventually claim his life. He underwent a then relatively new procedure that dramatically reduced the size of the tumor and its growth.
“Even though his career was curtailed by the slow growth of a tumor, he was still able to start the stroke unit at Hopkins,” Dr. Litt said.
“He was a beloved and outstanding teacher of residents and medical students,” wrote Dr. Argye E. Hillis, professor of neurology at Hopkins and director of the Center of Excellence in Stroke Detection and Diagnosis there.
Dr. Wityk mentored many of the department’s faculty and developed a Cerebrovascular Fellowship in 2004 that has seen more than 20 graduates, some of whom are working today as professors and associate professors in the field.
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His professional memberships included the American College of Physicians, American Academy of Neurology and the World Stroke Organization.
He retired in 2013.
“Bob was very personable and completely unflappable,” Dr. Litt said. “He also had a really understated sense of humor and he could give you a look or a smirk that traveled across the room.”
Dr. Wityk, who studied piano at the Peabody Institute and played guitar, was a classical music and opera fan. A fascination with astronomy led to a lifelong fascination with science fiction. He was also a Civil War buff and enjoyed visiting battlefields from that conflict.
In addition to his wife and parents, who live in Timonium, Dr. Wityk is survived by a son, Eric R. Wityk of Atlanta; two daughters, Rebecca A. McWhite of Springfield, Virginia, and Catherine P. Wityk of Asheville, North Carolina; and a sister, Nancy Yanke of Grasonville.