Donald Baim, 60, heart surgeon, executive

By J.M. Lawrence
Globe Correspondent / November 9, 2009

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Pioneering cardiologist Dr. Donald S. Baim concluded three years ago he could help heart patients more from the boardroom as chief medical officer at Boston Scientific than from the operating room.

Amid explosive growth in medical device technology, Dr. Baim, who lived in Westwood, worked on new generations of stents and other medical devices until a rare form of cancer cut his life short at age 60.

He died Friday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital fewer than three months after he was diagnosed with adrenal cancer, according to his family.

“Don was unique. He was a great man among great men. He could see things other people didn’t,’’ said his friend Arthur L. Rosenthal, chief executive of Cappella Inc., a medical device maker based in Ireland.

“He understood medicine was about people. First and foremost, he was always a physician who cared about patients,’’ said Rosenthal of Wellesley.

Few colleagues knew Dr. Baim quietly endured multiple sclerosis for the past 20 years, according to his family.

“A lot of days, he just didn’t feel great, but through all of that, he continued to see thousands of patients and train so many people who are now running [catheterization] labs all over the country,’’ said his wife, Caryn Paris.

Ray Elliott, chief executive of Natick-based Boston Scientific, said the company was grateful for Dr. Baim’s work.

“The many contributions he made to science, medicine, and medical technology will serve as a proud and enduring legacy,’’ Elliott said in a statement.

At Boston Scientific, Dr. Baim vigorously defended the pharmaceutical and medical device makers’ role in sponsoring research to advance interventional cardiology.

Born in New York, he grew up in Miami Beach. He earned his undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Chicago in 1971 and his medical degree from Yale in 1975.

He trained in internal medicine and cardiology under Dr. John Simpson at Stanford University.

In 1981, Dr. Baim was recruited to join the Harvard Medical School faculty. While there, he established the interventional cardiology program at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital - now Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center - and oversaw training of about 60 doctors in the field.

At age 45 in 1994, Dr. Baim became a full professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

In 2000, he left Beth Israel to work at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he was a senior physician. For the next five years, he also represented the hospital in a Boston-wide consortium of medical professionals working on the development of devices.

His wife called her husband a “renaissance man’’ who liked to unwind by playing guitar and cooking for his family. His favorite dish to prepare was the Spanish rice entrée paella.

“He just soaked everything in,’’ she said. “You could ask him anything about anything, and he would have the answer. I used to call him my answer man.’’

They were married for 12 years.

“He was so brilliant, but besides his brilliance, he had an incredible sense of humor,’’ Paris said.

When his granddaughter, Alexis, was 3, she saw her grandfather heading to work wearing his scrubs and told him he could not go to work in his pajamas, Paris said.

Dr. Baim replied that he had to wear the garb “because you know I’m a mattress tester,’’ his wife said.

The joke went on for years as Alexis grew wise and later kidded her grandfather about how many mattresses he had inspected that day.

“You know how some people say surgeons can be arrogant. Not a piece of him was like that,’’ his wife said. “He was very humble, very giving.’’

In addition to his wife and granddaughter, Dr. Baim leaves his mother, Jocelyn, and a brother, Paul, both of Natick; two sons, Adam of Chicago and Christopher of Wayland; and two daughters, Samantha Paris of Concord, N.H., and Jenifer Pruskin of Millis.

A memorial service will be held at 1:30 p.m. today in Stanetsky Memorial Chapel in Canton. Burial will be in Sharon Memorial Park in Sharon.