Dr. Yu-Chen Lee, a professor of cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who established the echocardiography division at the University of Maryland Medical Center's Heart Center, died May 5 of heart failure at the Charlestown retirement community. He was 89.
"Dr. Lee was a cardiologist at the University of Maryland, where I worked, and I've known him 40 years," said Dr. Robert Singleton, a retired cardiologist who lives in Catonsville. "He was a sound physician and cardiologist and was a proven scholar in his field. He wrote and published many papers and was highly regarded by his colleagues."
The son of farmers Ruen Lee and Chen Mei Lee, Yu-Chen Lee was one of 11 children and was born and raised in Taiwan.
"He grew up under the occupation of Imperial Japanese forces and educated under harsh Japanese rule at the prestigious Taiwan University Medical School at a time when it was very difficult for Chinese students to be admitted, as most were at war," said a son, Eugene Lee of Bethesda.
"Y.C., who spoke fluent Chinese and Japanese, was impressed into the Japanese Army," said Dr. Bernard S. Karpers Jr., a Baltimore internist and pulmonologist who had been a student of Dr. Lee's.
"I remember him telling me about the time he was in a field and was chased by a U.S. P-38 who finally went away because he was getting low on gas," said Dr. Karpers.
He earned his medical degree in 1949 from National Taiwan University, and in 1955 emigrated to the United States.
After completing three years of internal medicine training at Watts Hospital in Durham, N.C., he became chief medical resident at the Central Dispensary and Emergency Center, which is now the Washington Hospital Center, in 1958.
He then completed a one-year fellowship at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and joined its department of cardiology, where he taught countless students for the next three decades.
Dr. Lee established the department of echocardiography in the 1970s at the University of Maryland Medical Center's Heart Center, which now bears his name.
"He developed the department of echocardiography and in 1976 published his book 'The Essentials of Echocardiography,'" said Dr. Karpers.
"He was so good at reading electrocardiograms that he could look at them and tell what medications the patient was or was not taking. It was uncanny the insights he could develop by simply looking at them," said Dr. Karpers. "He passed this skill onto his students when teaching physical diagnosis."
Dr. Lee also pioneered the use in 1972 of beta-blockers for the treatment of a patient who did not respond to conventional therapy.
"Medical wisdom at the time argued against this therapy; however the patient survived for several more years, and he continued using this therapy on other heart failure patients," his son said.
"The use of beta-blockers at the time for the treatment of heart failure was incredibly controversial and he had the foresight to use this drug, which blocked the effects of heart failure and worked like a miracle," said Dr. Karpers. "He was the first person in the world to do this."
It wasn't until 1998 that an international study confirmed Dr. Lee's use of beta-blockers.
"Finally, in 1998, a landmark study co-directed at the medical school determined that adding beta-blocker therapy to standard treatment for congestive heart failure saved lives, thus vindicating Lee," according to "The University of Maryland School of Medicine: The First Two Centuries, 1807-2007" that was published by the University of Maryland.
"They are now the standard treatment for those suffering from heart failure," said Dr. Karpers.
As a professor of medicine, Dr. Lee could be quite a formidable presence, albeit a popular one.
"He was a very strict, stern taskmaster. He was all business but popular with the students," said Dr. Karpers. "Most of us focus on the study of one organ but he taught me to look at the integration of the heart to the lungs and this was a helpful integration."
Dr. Lee also cut quite a sartorial figure in the hallways of the medical school and medical center, said Dr. Karpers.
"He was always being elected the Best Dressed Professor. He always wore bow ties, which gynecologists always wear, and he carried a little black bag, which neurologists carry, which made him a cardiologist in hiding," said Dr. Karpers with a laugh.
Twice a day, Dr. Lee would run up the steps of the 12-story medical center.
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"This was his daily cardio workout," said Dr. Karpers. "Then he'd steal away for a hot dog, a bag of potato chips and a kosher dill pickle. He also loved corned beef sandwiches from the Lexington Market."
Even though Dr. Lee retired in 1988, he continued to consult for the next 20 years at the medical school.
The former Catonsville resident moved to Charlestown in 2013. He continued to walk several miles a day. He also liked to play tennis and attend the symphony.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. June 13 in the Our Lady of Angels Chapel at Charlestown, 700 Maiden Choice Lane.
In addition to his son, Dr. Lee is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former Gretchen Maierhofer, a registered nurse; another son, Edward Lee of New York City; a daughter, Elizabeth Lee Herrera of Houston; a brother, Yu-Fang Lee of Catonsville; and three granddaughters.