Dr. Hillel Jonathan Gitelman, a widely recognized nephrologist whose research is identified with the name of Gitelman’s syndrome, died at age 82 at Carolina Meadows Retirement Community in Chapel Hill, NC from complications of Parkinson’s disease.
In 1966, Gitelman described a novel kidney disorder characterized by loss of potassium and magnesium in two sisters. He went on to further evaluate these and other patients with this disorder, opening new windows into the role of a previously unknown protein in normal physiology and disease. The gene responsible for this disorder was eventually cloned by Gitelman and his colleagues, in the year that he retired. From these experiences, he always encouraged young researchers to write up their unusual observations. His research encompassed other issues related to the kidney and bone metabolism, particularly bone effects from aluminum exposure.
Hillel (Hill) was born and raised in Rochester, NY, son of Jacob, a noted judge and lawyer, and Belle, an artist and concert pianist who trained and then taught at the Eastman School for Music. In recalling his early science experiences, he related that, “Certainly my interest in science was stimulated by a gift of a chemistry set in elementary school. I was allowed to play with chemicals that interested me without adequate supervision. My parents recognized that my interest in science was intense but neither parent recognized what I was doing.” These interests were further fostered by summer jobs at Eastman Kodak, where he developed a lifelong love for photography, building a darkroom in the family attic before this hobby gave way to digital photography and a color printer in later years.
Upon graduation from Monroe High School in Rochester, NY, Hill received a scholarship to Princeton University, and then attended the University of Rochester Medical School. Thereafter, he moved south, completing a residency in Internal Medicine at Duke University, followed by a research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. He then pursued a nephrology fellowship at the University of North School of Medicine in Chapel Hill, and subsequently joined the faculty, where he spent his entire 30 year career. He commented often on the invaluable mentorship that he received from Eugene Stead, MD (Duke), and Louis Welt, MD (UNC), who helped shape and guide his career.
Hill is survived by Honre’ (Onnie), his lifelong partner and wife of 59 years, whom he met on a blind date in Syracuse when a senior in high school. Although he had a full career, he set aside time for playing basketball, football, swimming, hiking, chess and cards with his 4 children as well as gardening, repairing old cars and later scrabble, gardening, concerts and travel with his wife. He carried a love for the outdoors with him throughout his life, borne from summer childhood experiences with his family in the Adirondacks. He was assigned a unique family chore: to allure, trap and dispose of mice with a peanut butter treat each morning. From his mother, Hill enjoyed music and art and, from both parents, freedom of expression. He voraciously devoured a series of daily newspapers to remain abreast of issues of the day, and was ready for lively discussion on almost any topic. An enthusiasm for poker began in high school, which continued in a monthly poker club during his retirement.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son Stephen of San Francisco, CA, along with wife Anna, and their children Jacob, Sofia and Tobias; his son Daniel, of Durham, NC, along with wife Laurie and their daughter Meagan; and his youngest son Philip, of Chapel Hill, NC. Hill’s daughter Amy preceded him in death. He also leaves his sister, Joyce Barrow of Lenox, Massachusetts; sister and brother-in-law Natalie and Herbert Schwartz of Pittsford, NY; and his brother and sister-in-law, David and Marcia Gitelman of Port Orange, Florida.
The family would like to express special thanks to Hill’s primary physician, Dr. Holly Jean Coward and the staff of the Pines nursing facility at Carolina Meadows for all their kindness, attentiveness and support, and to his neurologist, Dr. Nina Browner, at the University of North Carolina Hospitals, Chapel Hill. Hill enjoyed many opportunities at Carolina Meadows, as he battled the progressive limitations imposed by Parkinson’s Disease. The physical and occupational therapy kept him happy and motivated to take care of himself and remain in independent living as long as possible.??Hill’s family would welcome donations in his memory to the National Parkinson Foundation, Gift Processing Center, PO Box 5018, Hagerstown MD 21741-5018 or the Friends of Health Science Library, UNC at Chapel Hill, CB7585, Chapel Hill NC 27599-7585.
A memorial service will be held at Carolina Meadows on February 21, 2015 at 2PM.