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Harold Kosasky, 83, pioneer in treatment of infertility

By Gloria Negri
Globe Staff / September 26, 2011

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During his long career as an obstetrician and gynecologist, Dr. Harold Jack Kosasky delivered 8,000 babies, according to conservative estimates, including many for women with significant infertility challenges. Internationally known as a pioneer in the field of infertility and fluid rheology, the study of blood flow through the vascular system, he held nearly 20 patents for his research.

Dr. Kosasky, who was on staff at Brigham and Women’s Hospital for 42 years while an instructor at Harvard Medical School, died July 21 at Spaulding Hospital Cambridge of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 83 and lived in Brookline.

In his 50 years as a doctor, he practiced obstetrics for more than 30. His knowledge and research were sought by sources in the Vatican and Third World countries concerned with birth-control issues, his family and colleagues said.

He was, however, a modest man, colleagues said, beloved by his patients. He was an old-fashioned doctor who listened to them, not only addressing their concerns but also those about aches and pains of family members or friends.

“My father always said that one is infinitely bigger than zero,’’ said his daughter Julia Hallisey of Greenwich, Conn., referring to the birth of a child.

“What he meant by that was for a family that wanted a child, whether it was ultimately through adoption or a couple struggling with infertility who were also able to conceive, those babies were so wanted, so loved. It gave him such joy to help families make a decision, or understand what it takes to arrive there, and at the end of the day, a family is a family. It doesn’t matter how one arrives there.’’

Although retired, Dr. Kosasky was doing research - including on the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease - when he fell ill, said his wife, Shirley Anne.

Just after observing their 56th anniversary, he first saw a neurologist for his symptoms and was admitted to the Brigham. Before that, his wife said, “He was never sick.’’

“Hal was a man for all seasons,’’ she said. “He was not only a very, very good doctor, he was so well read and loved everything about the arts. He loved his patients and his own and all other children.’’

“He was a wonderfully nice, kind, and caring doctor. His patients all loved him,’’ said Dr. Raymond Reilly, director of gynecological surgery at the Brigham. “He was a lovely human being and a very kind man. Though he had retired, he still came in for rounds.’’

Reilly recalled that Dr. Kosasky and two other medical researchers developed a device in the 1970s that helped couples who were trying to conceive. A Globe report at the time said the device “tells exactly when ovulation . . . is imminent or actually occurring.’’

Patients always came first with Dr. Kosasky.

“The phone would ring at all hours of the night and I would get up and watch my father get ready and leave for the hospital, ’’ his daughter Leah of Brookline said. “He was off to bring another baby into the world.’’

After Dr. Kosasky’s death, the family heard from many of his grateful former patients.

“Many shared with me they had been dying [during pregnancy] ‘and then he walked in and saved my life, literally,’ ’’ Leah said.

Many of his patients remained lifelong family friends.

Linda Fickens of Londonderry, N.H., hosted a party for him and former patients 15 years ago. She said she had complications with the births of her three children.

“I was a flight attendant and moved around a lot,’’ she said. “Whenever there was a complication, I could call him from wherever I was.’’

When she lost one child while in Georgia, Fickens said, Dr. Kosasky sternly questioned the doctor there.

Said Dr. Kosasky’s son, Robert, of Potomac, Md.: “Whenever there had been a difficult delivery, my father would sit with the patient a whole day if necessary.’’

By all accounts, Dr. Kosasky was a brilliant man. “He never ran out of knowledge,’’ Leah said, “and was always the go-to person when we needed advice, answers, or just more information.’’

She said that even though her father counted among his closest friends the greatest minds in science and medicine and famous artists and authors, “he remained humble and unassuming.’’

Despite his full schedule, Dr. Kosasky made a point of making it home for dinner, even if he had to go back to the hospital, his family said.

He was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he graduated from high school in 1944. He received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Manitoba and his medical degree from that school in 1953.

He and Shirley Anne (Johnston), a surgical nurse, met at a hospital in Calgary. In less than two weeks, they knew they would marry. However, Dr. Kosasky had signed up to practice psychiatry for a year in a hospital in Warren, Pa. They married in 1955.

After practicing psychiatry for three years, Dr. Kosasky decided to concentrate on obstetrics and gynecology, and he practiced at Chicago Lying-In hospital for three years. From there, he and his family spent a year in England, where most of his deliveries of babies were made at home. Back in the United States in 1961, his wife said his first job was in Louisville, Ky. “At $12,000 a year, we thought we were in heaven,’’ she said.

The family moved to Boston in 1967 and settled in Brookline. From 1977 to 1981, he was an obstetrician and gynecologist at Boston Hospital for Women before moving on to the Brigham.

In addition to his wife, daughters, and son, Dr. Kosasky leaves six grandchildren.

Just as cherished by him as his membership in prestigious medical societies, Dr. Kosasky was an enthusiastic baritone in the Saengerfest Men’s Chorus. At his longstanding request, its members will sing at a service of thanksgiving for his life at the Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill Friday at 2 p.m.

Gloria Negri can be reached at