February 10, 2009
5 min read

Ronald Sacher, MD, on the joys of Tuscany and the pain of Pilates

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Ronald Sacher, MD, is only the fourth director in the 70-year history of the Hoxworth Blood Center and serves as a professor of internal medicine and pathology with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Sacher came to Hoxworth from Washington, D.C., where he was chairman of the department of laboratory medicine, director of transfusion medicine and professor of medicine, oncology and pathology at Georgetown University Hospital. He was also the first chairman of the American Association of Blood Banks committee on pediatric transfusion.

What do you think will have the biggest influence on hematology in the next 10 years?

Ronald Sacher, MD
Ronald Sacher

Clearly, we’re in a very exciting time in hematology both from the point of view of the application of molecular techniques in testing, diagnosis and individualized treatment, and also from the point of view of targeted therapy and rational drug design. Using computer models and knowing the structure of various drugs and their receptors, one can rationally design drugs that can be targeted at specific aberrant molecules. That’s the exciting aspect of it. The elucidation of the anatomy of the human genome and all the various techniques for rapid molecular testing has enabled that. This is amplified by the tremendous evolution and development of informatics. It’s really been a parallel course of molecular diagnosis, elucidation of the human genome and the overwhelming growth of informatics, and synthesizing all of this together that has really opened up our understanding of the biology of disease and has increased our armamentarium of therapeutics.

What do you consider your greatest success?

I am blessed to have a loving wife — Heather — and a supportive family that have enabled me to achieve what I have in life and in academics.

My biggest success was raising awareness of pediatric transfusion medicine with a colleague of mine from Washington, Dr. Naomi Luban. She and I were instrumental in defining pediatric transfusion medicine as a unique entity, and we were the first chairpeople of a specific committee involved with pediatric transfusion issues.

I’ve written and/or edited 17 books, but I’ve been very proud of my book titled “Widmann’s Clinical Interpretation of Laboratory Tests.” I took over from another physician, Dr. Frances Widmann. My co-author, Dr. Richard McPherson, and I wrote the last two editions of this book and it actually did very well. Many people have used it as a reference and I’ve had many people come up to me and tell me how useful they’ve found it and how readable it is.

I’ve gotten a lot of pleasure from all the patients I’ve treated, interacted with and been able to support and guide through their illnesses over the years. Apart from the academic things I’ve done and research grants that I’ve gotten, I think having the privilege of being a doctor to wonderful patients and being able to help them is probably the most successful and rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

What would you be doing if not in medicine?

There was a time when I was considering engineering or architecture. I’ve always had a fairly precise mathematical and scientific mind so I would have possibly done that. On the other hand, I come from an artistic family and I’ve always fantasized about painting or especially learning to blow glass and do glass art. Who knows? Maybe when I retire I’ll do something like that.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not practicing medicine?

I’m eclectic. In my free time I like to play golf, exercise, ski and scuba dive. I’m an amateur wildlife photographer. I also like cricket, but I don’t get to see much of it.

I’m a professional amateur. That’s a good way of describing it — a jack of all trades. I’ll let others decide whether I’m a master of any.

I’ve generally had a fairly low golf handicap. I used to have a single-digit handicap, but I don’t play quite as much as I used to. I’m about a 12 handicap now. It’s good enough to think you can do better and to be frustrated if you don’t.

I’ve played competitive tennis in my life. Basically, I can hit a ball with a stick. I am the epitome of “white men can’t jump” because I can’t play basketball.

I love amateur wildlife photography, being born and raised in South Africa. Most recently, I’ve discovered Italian cooking, so I love that too.

Who are your mentors?

At Georgetown University I had four mentors: Dr. Charles Rath, the head of our division and a wonderful guiding light; Dr. Robert Jacobson, who is a hematologist down in Palm Beach, Fla., now; Dr. Dudley Jackson, a hematologist at Georgetown; and Dr. Milton Corn, a hematologist who’s also one of the leaders of the National Library of Medicine. Those four people really helped me in my early, formative years at Georgetown with encouragement and guidance. Dr. Jack Hirsh at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, was really energetic, practical and incredibly knowledgeable during my period there.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

Charlie Rath would say, “Anticipate all outcomes; plan ahead.” He used to say to us, “Think of what can happen and think of possibilities of how to handle it.” In other words, be preemptive.

Do you have a diet/exercise regimen?

My diet is not necessarily a diet most people would subscribe to. I don’t eat much during the day. I usually eat cottage cheese for breakfast, yogurt and a Zone bar for lunch. I used to chomp vegetables throughout the day and I drink a lot of tea. Being of English ancestry in part, I think it’s very civilized.

At night I tend to eat a little bit more. I love pasta and chocolate, but I watch my calorie intake pretty well. My philosophy is: calories in, calories out.

My wife is an exercise therapist, and I come from a family of exercise nuts. My son and daughter-in-law have done the Ironman.

Until I came to Cincinnati, I played tennis regularly. I played on the circuit in South Africa as a junior. I played in the Washington area with a number of close friends and it was hard to find the same level of camaraderie or skill level.

My exercise regimen right now is running on the elliptical trainer and doing the treadmill during the week and of course skiing when I can. Mostly it’s elliptical training or running or weights. And I do Pilates. At first I pooh-poohed it, but it’s tough. I go to Pilates once a week and I dread it.

What is the last DVD you bought?

The last DVD I bought was “Planet Earth,” the National Geographic series. Being a person who likes nature, the photography and the spectacle of the whole thing was just incredible.

What’s your favorite travel destination?

It’s actually three: Tuscany, Italy, Fiji and Esperanza, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

We are part owners of a place in Tuscany so we go there regularly. We have a town house in a medieval town we go to at least once a year. We know the locals and we’ve learned Italian. We like speaking the language — not well, but hopefully I get better every year. We haven’t found a bad gelato yet and all the pasta is fantastic because it’s all fresh. It’s in the wine area and the vistas are just so beautiful.

Cabo is just idyllic. There’s nothing to do and you just veg out. It is total indulgence and relaxation.

What are your favorite restaurants?

Tonoshi in Chicago; Haandi, an Indian restaurant in Falls Church, Va.; and for special occasions, it’s the Inn at Little Washington in Washington, Va., which is consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the country. – by Jason Harris