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Tom Lansdale: A Doctor and A Friend

March 21, 2019
Tom Lansdale was a doctor's doctor. Truly encompassing the notion of patient-centered care, Dr. Lansdale, who died in January 2019, looked at each patient, truly, as a friend. He knew their history and their lifestyle inside and out because of the way it effected their health, but also because he was always an apprentice, humbling himself to learn everything he could about patients and the practice of medicine.

"He was a superb internist," Dr. Jim Porterfield, general cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Cardiology at GBMC. "He really called himself, and truly was in many respects, a traditional country doctor. He got to know his patients very well, but not just their medical history and issues, but he knew the family was integral to their management."

The "country" part was most likely born from Dr. Lansdale's upbringing. A native of then-rural Sandy Springs in Montgomery County, Dr. Lansdale's father was the only importer and grinder of psyllium seed, which is used to make Metamucil and other similar products.

He attended Mercersburg Academy, a boarding school in PA, where he met Dr. Porterfield. Their friendship continued for 50 years, even when Dr. Porterfield began a career at Hopkins and GBMC, while Dr. Lansdale built a name for himself at Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. When Dr. Porterfield put a bug in his ear about an open position for associate chief of medicine and program director for the residency program at GBMC, Dr. Lansdale jumped at the opportunity to be closer to home.

"Dr. Lansdale didn't always speak out at the GBMC medical board meetings, but when he did, the side conversations quieted, and most people listened," friend, Paul McClelland, MD, said at Dr. Lansdale's memorial service. "We listened because his words were usually highly relevant, rarely self-promoting, and always delivered with flair.

"He served another role for many GBMC medical residents. Tom became a beloved parent substitute for many who were graduates of foreign medical schools and living in America for the first time."

As much as Dr. Lansdale knew the key to a patient's medical history was looking at the whole patient, he brought his whole self into the practice of medicine.

He loved to cook. And when he began his concierge practice 10 years ago, he would bring patients soup to their homes when they were ill. He looked at patients more as friends.

According to Delbert Adams, a member of GBMC's Board of Directors and another long-time friend of Dr. Lansdale's, he could make patients feel like they were seeing a friend rather than a physician, which to Delbert's 97-year-old father was such a comfort. Always fearful of what medical news he might learn, he avoided going. But with Dr. Lansdale, he never felt nervous.

"My dad was proud of his good health and was uncomfortable with a planned doctor's appointment, so he rarely went for check-ups," Delbert said. "He would come here from Ohio and I'd say, 'let's go visit my buddy.' So we would "pop in" and see Tom. I had the appointment already scheduled, but I would say we were popping in, just checking to see how Tom is doing. Next thing he knew, I would excuse myself to take a phone call and Tom would basically give my dad a physical. He treated him, kept his charts, his whole record and my dad trusted him. He didn't feel like he was going to see a doctor."

His work led him to other parts of the city. As a long-serving member of the Board of Directors for the Healthcare for the Homeless, Dr. Lansdale lent his expertise and knowledge to a desperate need in Baltimore City.

"He's altruistic, a real humanist," Dr. Porterfield said. "He recognized the healthcare disparities in this country based on socioeconomic backgrounds, certainly that's very true in this city. I think he saw a need, got involved, and it really became a passion for him."

There were many holistic and admirable pieces to Dr. Lansdale, all of which lent themselves to his role as a physician, his life's work.

"This was central to his life and identity," Dr. McClelland said. "The best parts of Tom: his curiosity, his ability to connect empathically with people, his moral compass, his wisdom, his honesty and his sense of responsibility, all informed the way he lived his life as a physician and as a person."
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