BWH and the Division of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy mourn the loss of Albert L. Sheffer, MD, who died Dec. 22.
During his 50-year career at BWH, Dr. Sheffer, of Weston, provided compassionate care to thousands of patients with allergic and immunologic diseases, as well as training and mentorship to more than 100 fellows. He conducted innovative clinical research to create or expand treatment options for conditions such as allergic rhinitis, bronchial asthma and hereditary angioedema. For the latter condition, he developed a prophylactic therapy that reduced spontaneous flares. Dr. Sheffer also discovered what proved to be the most common form of physical allergy elicited by exercise. Thanks to his concern for his patients and a thorough exploration into this phenomenon, exercise-related anaphylaxis remains a well-recognized form of physical allergy to this day.
Born in Lewistown, Penn., Dr. Sheffer graduated from Franklin & Marshall College and George Washington University Medical School. He completed his internal medicine and pulmonary training at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Hospital, an allergy/immunology fellowship at Temple University Hospital and a post-doctoral research year at the Rockefeller Institute.
He joined Harvard Medical School in 1964 and Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in 1966. Soon after, he and K. Frank Austen, MD, established the Allergy Clinic and the Allergy Training Program. His trainees went on to hold leadership positions in the specialty. Dr. Sheffer engaged in private practice from 1969 until 1993, when he became a full-time staff member at BWH, serving as the director of Allergy until 1998.
“Shef’s passion to understand mechanism so as to more effectively alleviate symptoms for his patients was accompanied by unwavering attention to both basic and translational possibilities,” said Austen.
A pioneer in emphasizing the science underlying asthma and allergic disease, Dr. Sheffer was past-president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), the first chair of the expert panel that generated the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s (NHLBI) Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma, and co-chairman of the first Global Initiative for Asthma Committee. He also served on the United Nations Technical Options Committee. He received the Distinguished Service Award from NHLBI, as well as the Distinguished Clinician’s Award from the AAAAI. He and Austen were co-recipients of the first annual Mentoring Award from the AAAAI for their contributions. He was also elected to the American Association of Physicians based on the importance of his discoveries.
“Dr. Sheffer cared passionately about the education of his fellows,” said Joshua Boyce, MD, the current Albert L. Sheffer Professor of Medicine and associate chief of Rheumatology, Immunology and Allergy at BWH. “He was a selfless and dedicated physician and mentor who modeled exemplary clinical care for all of us.”
Dr. Sheffer was also a longtime donor to BWH and a member of both The Hippocrates Society and The President’s Pillar Society.
He is survived by his wife, Barbara Sheffer; children Andrew Sheffer, Susan Sheffer, Peter Sheffer and wife, Mary, and Linda Larabee and husband, John; grandchildren Emma, Bea, Will and Jack Sheffer, Matthew Larabee, and Katherine Larabee Tuttle and husband, Samuel Tuttle.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 30, at 11 a.m. at the First Parish Church, 349 Boston Post Road in Weston. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Albert L. Sheffer, MD, Fellowship Fund for Allergic Diseases (giving.brighamandwomens.org/sheffer), Development Office, BWH, 116 Huntington Ave., Third Floor, Boston, MA 02116.