Dr. Jim Leyden remembers friend and colleague Dr. Alan Shalita

Mar 10, 2015, 4:00am

Dr. James Leyden presented the Dr. Alan Shalita Memorial Lecture in January at the MauiDerm 2015 Conference in Maui, Hawaii. Dermatology Times sat down with Dr. Leyden at the conference to talk about Dr. Shalita.

Dr. Leyden discusses his friendship with Drs. Alan Shalita and John Strauss and their circle, dubbed the "Acne Mafia".Dr. James Leyden presented the Dr. Alan Shalita Memorial Lecture in January at the MauiDerm Conference in Maui, Hawaii. Dermatology Times sat down with Dr. Leyden at the conference to talk about Dr. Shalita.

“Today I gave the Alan Shalita Memorial Lecture, the first one, here at MauiDerm 2015. Alan and I were absolutely best friends. I visited his department at least once a year. We spent an average of 30 days a year together for 40 years at meetings like this. He was a special person to me, and he was a very special person to dermatology.

Alan-otherwise known as Alan the Magnificent-and I met sometime around 1967, when we were residents. I was at Penn, he was at NYU. I think Alan was a most remarkable person, cheerful, upbeat, enthusiastic, and optimistic.

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He built a really fine program at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where he didn’t just train residents, he nurtured them. He felt like they were his children, and he was watching over them. After they finished, he was still watching over them, giving them advice and helping them when they needed help. He was an extraordinarily generous person.

Once, when we were in China, we decided to go on a tour after the meeting. On the second day of the tour, Alan fell asleep with his arms over his stomach. [Our tour guide] Norman said, “Alan is Buddha.” And for the rest of the trip, we called him “Buddha.” On the last day, Norman leaned over to talk to me with tears streaming down his cheeks because Alan had surprised him with a gift. The gift was from the group. None of us knew that Alan did this, and Norman leaned over to me and said, “Jim, I love Buddha,” and I said, “Norman, everybody loves Buddha.”

On advisory boards, Alan always fell asleep. Always. In fact, we used to have over/under pools: we’d all throw some money in, then we’d pick how long it would take Alan to be sound asleep. Not just nodding, but asleep. One time we started at 9:00, and by 9:16 he was out. We could all hear him snoring, so we knew he was asleep, but he always kept one eye open. When we’d wake him, he’d make comments about the slides that the presenter was showing. He’d be sound asleep, but then wake up and know everything that had happened. It was remarkable. Migratory birds form circles and they sleep with half their brain at a time-one eye open and the other closed-and then they rotate. So I told him, ‘Alan, now we understand you.’ He said, ‘You’re calling me a birdbrain? I thought we were friends!’

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He did world famous work in acne, he was very involved in the organizational aspects of our specialty with the academy, he was an officer of the academy, Board of Directors, ran lots of committees, and he was the secretary treasurer at the American Dermatologic Association for two centuries or so. At Downstate, he not only ran that department, but he also had a leadership role, which took enormous time and energy, and for which he didn’t get paid.

He absolutely loved dermatology, and it showed. He was a consummate medical professional.

I spoke at Alan’s memorial service last year. It was held in a huge auditorium, which was packed with people from the community and from SUNY. The word ‘beloved’ is often used loosely. I think in his case, it’s an understatement. Alan was special. That’s why I called him ‘Alan the Magnificent.’”

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