December 01, 2009
6 min read

A tribute to Ken Baughman, MD

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“To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first,” William Shakespeare.

Ken Baughman walked slowly into the hospital, but each morning before work he ran so fast. He seemed indestructible. Many thought that he used the time to think about his patients or the next challenges ahead. He always seemed a step of ahead of everyone else.

As I get closer to celebrating my 39th birthday yet again (my son Ross says that I am approaching half way to 100), I find myself reflecting more on my relationships in life and my career path. My world, and that of so many Hopkins and Brigham physicians’, turned upside down when I was told that Kenneth L. Baughman, MD, was taken away from us.

He was struck by a car while jogging Nov. 16 at 6 a.m. He was about two miles away from the Orange County Convention Center just before the start of the second day of the annual American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Orlando. Aside from my mother Anita, my late father (Stanley L. Blumenthal, MD), and my wife Wendy Post, MD, Ken Baughman, MD, was one of the most influential figure in my life.

Most people in the CV world knew Ken as a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Advanced Heart Disease Section at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He received the Laennec Master Clinician Award in 2008 from the AHA.

He was recognized internationally for his contributions to the field of HF and cardiomyopathy. He was also a leader in the field of CV education and was the chair and lead author of the American College of Cardiology COCATS 2 &3 Training Statement Task Force on Training in Clinical Cardiology.

Kenneth L. Baughman, MD and his wife, Cheryl.

Photo courtesy of Roger S. Blumenthal, MD

In the latest document published in January 2008, he and his colleagues wrote, “The training experience in clinical cardiology is fundamental to the development of the specialist in CV medicine. It should provide a broad exposure to acute and chronic CV diseases, emphasizing accurate ambulatory and bedside clinical diagnosis, appropriate use of diagnostic studies, and integration of all data into a well-communicated consultation, with sensitivity to the unique features of each individual patient. Active participation in research projects will provide the trainee with further experience in critical thinking and in evaluating the CV literature.”

The above statements aptly summarized Ken’s approach to medicine and postgraduate education. He was a doctor’s doctor, a superb clinical researcher and educator, and a remarkable physician whose clinical skills were honed as an assistant chief of service on the Osler Medical Service. In my time at Hopkins, Ken Baughman, MD, and Rick Lange, MD, were clearly the best clinicians and teachers of the residents and fellows.

Ken joined the faculty at Hopkins in 1979, and was the primary clinical face of Hopkins cardiology in the '80s and '90s. He served as director of cardiology for nine years and played a major role in expanding the clinical services and clinical research at Hopkins. He helped to train and hire a superb group of academic cardiologists, who are proud to have had him as their leader.

He fought for the faculty and expected a great deal from us. Much of what he demanded from the Hospital president and dean were later granted to his successor. He knew what needed to be done to make Hopkins clinical cardiology and clinical research thrive in the 21st century.

Impact of Family

Ken’s dad died early of an MI and that motivated him to run and exercise vigorously on a daily basis. He specialized in triathalons and relished running with his sons. He avoided high saturated fat foods and sweets, and emphasized fruits, vegetables, and fiber.

Over the years, I watched many a Hopkins lacrosse game with Cheryl and Ken and their two sons, Matt and Chris.

Ken was marvelous husband, father, grandfather and healer. Though Ken worked harder than any physician I know, he always made time for his family. He rarely missed one of his son’s athletic contests and he encouraged me to do the same, and to even try to coach some of Ross’s recreation league and school teams. He said it was a great way to promote father-son bonding and to learn more about our son’s friends. I tried it when Ross turned 6 and now I am hooked; I help to coach Ross’s soccer, basketball and lacrosse teams.

My cardiology training

It was a month-long block on the cardiology consultation service with Ken Baughman that solidified cardiology as my career path.

He was a dynamic teacher who was so well versed in all areas of medicine. He taught countless residents and fellows how to examine neck veins and identify adventitious heart sounds and subtle murmurs. He would often draw the JVP contours or schematic drawing of murmurs on paper towels or bed sheets.

Ken had a gruff exterior at times. Many would describe him as a straight shooter – a Clint Eastwood type. Once, he suspected that a patient had hidden a pack of cigarettes in a dresser. He went into the room and proceeded to open all the drawers and throw all of the man’s clothes on the floor. When he found a pack of Marlboro’s and matches, he threw them into the waste basket and told the gentleman that if he ever thought about smoking again, he would need to get another doctor.

Ken loved the following quote from George Bernard Shaw that I found for him the next day: “I have never smoked in my life and look forward to a time when the world will look back in amazement and disgust to a practice so unnatural and offensive.”

Ken also had a soft and compassionate side. A patient with a dilated cardiomyopathy was suspected of having HIV, and he was in isolation. When we got the blood test back, Ken refused to put on a gown, mask or gloves. He needed to talk frankly to our patient about the diagnosis and its implications; his manner in breaking disheartening news to patients was something that I will always remember.

Helping to shape my career

It was the example of Ken Baughman that proved to me that one could indeed be a busy clinician and teacher and still build a successful clinical research enterprise. He created a marvelous dataset for patients with cardiomyopathy that helped launch the successful careers of trainees such as Ed Kasper, MD, and Josh Hare, MD.

Ken helped steer my career path and was instrumental in the development of the Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. He and I felt that we needed to become formally affiliated with a state of the art exercise facility. Through his hard work, we created a satellite facility at the Maryland Athletic Club and Wellness Center, where we worked closely with a cardiac CT facility, clinical exercise program, and a cardiac rehabilitation center. Preventive cardiology has thrived at Hopkins for the past decade thanks in large part to Kenneth L. Baughman, MD.

It was at Ken’s urging that I explored several aspects of atherosclerotic vascular disease as my prime interests and encouraged selected residents and fellows to work with me on state-of-the-art reviews and clinical research papers in these areas. He told me that I would be able to accomplish much more if I worked more collaboratively with others. He reminded me on a regular basis that Hopkins Lacrosse Coach Henry Ciccarone won three straight national titles because of his superb picks of assistant coaches for his staff.

I have followed his advice closely and helped to mentor trainees in this manner. He repeatedly encouraged me to be the coach and general manager of the Ciccarone Center’s efforts and make a real impact on CV medicine.

Personal memories

Cheryl and Ken Baughman cared deeply about my happiness and success and that of many other physicians at Hopkins and Brigham. No one is a better “people person” than Cheryl; she was the perfect leading lady of Hopkins cardiology. Her laughter and smile always lit up a room. I was so pleased that Cheryl and Ken were able to join Wendy and me for our wedding in New York in 1997.

Ken took the time to learn so much about what made his faculty, fellows and friends tick. He tried to attend all of the Hopkins presentations at major meetings. He knew me, at times, better than I knew myself. I will strive to establish the same close bonds with my trainees and colleagues as he did with so many at Hopkins and at Harvard.

Rick Shunk, MD, phrased it best when he wrote that when confronted with challenging clinical scenarios, he frequently finds himself considering “What would KLB do?” Many of us will likely frame photos of Ken and put the initials “WWKLBD” under it. His legacy will live forever in those who he trained and the thousands of patients that he cared for over 30 years.

Once spring time rolls around, I hope and pray that my late father, Stanley, and our late friend, mentor and leader, Ken, will get together with Coach Ciccarone in heaven and watch my 10 year-old son Ross on the recreation league lacrosse field and the Hopkins Blue Jays at Homewood field and Ravens stadium. They will be in a luxury skybox with a great view of the fields. My, how I miss them so very much.