Dr. Mark I. Rossberg, a pediatric anesthesiologist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, died Thursday of prostate cancer at his Northwest Baltimore home.
He was 50.
"Mark was a superbly talented anesthesiologist and a masterful clinician-educator, but above all he was the consummate pediatrician," said Dr. Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine. "We will miss him dearly."
"Mark was an excellent person for so many reasons. He was beloved," said Dr. Myron Yaster, a longtime friend and colleague who is a pediatric anesthesiologist and pain specialist at Hopkins Children's Center.
"The patients, surgeons, nurses and right on down to the people who scrubbed the floors and changed the light bulbs loved him. Across the board, he was loved," he said. "He was extremely cheerful, very caring and a tireless worker. He was always the first one in and the last one out."
Dr. Rossberg, the son of an engineer and an educator, was born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., where he graduated in 1979 from the Bronx High School of Science.
In a combined seven-year program at City College of New York and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan, Dr. Rossberg earned both his undergraduate and medical degree in 1987.
Dr. Rossberg always wanted to be a pediatrician but was also attracted to the complexities of anesthesiology, so he combined his interest in both and became a pediatric anesthesiologist.
After completing residencies in pediatrics and anesthesiology at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, which was followed by a fellowship in pediatric anesthesia and critical care medicine at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, he came to Hopkins in the mid-1990s at the behest of Dr. Miller, who is also an anesthesiologist.
Dr. Rossberg quickly established himself as a person who had a talent for teaching and bonded with residents at the hospital.
His research interests included pediatric transplant anesthesia, anesthesia for children with congenital heart disease, mechanisms of neurological protection and fiber-optic intubation.
Dr. Rossberg was also considered by colleagues a master of airway management in children and was often called upon to handle challenging and difficult cases.
He taught pediatric residents the intricacies of handling the airway during stabilization of critically ill and injured children.
A larger-than-life figure with a gregarious personality, Dr. Rossberg was a large burly man with a beard. He was an Orthodox Jew who was seldom without his yarmulke.
Dr. Rossberg employed his considerable charm and lightheartedness in calming nervous children who were about to go into the operating room. He tried to alleviate their fears by telling them stories and making them laugh.
"You could even tell when he was wearing a mask that he had a smile on his face. He knew how to calm children because he was this mesmerizing presence. He could easily bond with his patients, whether they were kids or adults," said Dr. John Ulatowski, who is chairman of the department of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Hopkins.
"This is very important for patients facing surgery because they fear loss of control, and he was very good at putting them at ease. He also cared for adults," said Dr. Ulatowski.
"Children weren't the only patients he calmed before surgery, it was also the parents," said Dr. Yaster. "He could calm them by his nature of being reassuring that they were going to get the best medical care humanly possible."
"Mark had a phenomenal reputation. His colleagues would often request him for themselves or their families," said Dr. Ulatowski.
"He understood that being a doctor was a privilege and because of that, patients always came first. And because of this, his value system made him an important role model, and he imparted that," said Dr. Yaster. "Being a physician and an Orthodox Jew were very important to him."
Just days before his death, Dr. Rossberg's mind was still on a patient whose complicated case he shared with another colleague, inquiring about the patient's welfare.
Dr. Rossberg was also sensitive to the various euphemisms that currently define those working in medicine. "He was a professional and not a health care provider. He was a doctor, and the people he cared for were his patients," said Dr. Yaster.
Last year, the anesthesiology house staff at Hopkins voted him Teacher of the Year.
"For the next two or three decades, Mark will leave a legacy of people across the country he trained at Hopkins," said Dr. Ulatowski.
Dr. Rossberg's favorite pastime was fishing.
He was a member of Congregation Beth Abraham.
Graveside services were held Thursday at Chevra Ahavas Chessed in Randallstown.
Surviving are his wife of 18 years, the former Esti Weissman; five children; his mother; and a sister.
Dr. Mark I. Rossberg
Anesthesiologist was known for his gentle manner and ability to comfort anxious children
Dr. Mark Rossberg (Baltimore Sun / December 19, 2011)