David J. Kudzma

Dr. David J. Kudzma, a physician who had a private practice, taught students and conducted research as a specialist in endocrinology for more than 50 years, died on December 24. He lived in Vero Beach and was 86.

Dr. Kudzma went off to medical school intending to be a folksy general practitioner in the small city in New Hampshire in which he grew up. But he succumbed to the intrigue of how the body’s several glands maintained good health when they functioned and interacted normally but could produce heart disease and other ailments when they misbehaved. That fascination led him to become an expert in endocrinology and metabolism in a career that spanned all kinds of medicine: military, academic, private practice, and managed health care.

Dr. Kudzma once described the practice of medicine as a “tyranny, cruelly relentless in its demands.” But he felt those demands were well rewarded by the affection of his patients, many of whom spoke only Spanish, and his students. Dr. Kudzma also enjoyed life beyond medicine. Aside from his family, Dr. Kudzma loved to watch his indoor and outdoor cats, who at times numbered seven, and tended to gardening. He also puffed on a pipe when he read ancient and medieval history and regularly solved the New York Times crossword puzzle on Sundays. In summers, he relaxed on the Rhode Island seashore.

David Joseph Kudzma was born on August 30, 1936 and raised in Nashua, NH where he was valedictorian of his high school class. At Yale in New Haven, he was a classics major, played the clarinet in the Yale Band, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated magna cum laude before entering Tufts University Medical School in Boston. There, he was an outstanding student and started his career in research by studying use of cadaver blood for transfusions, a method that Russian doctors were advocating at the time.

Although he won an award as the top anatomy student in his class, Dr. Kudzma said his “most distinguishing” moment as a medical student was when he took an unexcused absence from his hospital clerkship on September 28, 1960 to witness Ted Williams hit a home run in his last at-bat, in Fenway Park. (see New York Times). A lifetime Red Sox fan, Dr. Kudzma cherished an autographed birthday card that Williams later sent him when the doctor turned 45.

After receiving his medical degree in 1962, Dr. Kudzma married Joanne Quinn, a nurse whom he had met at the New England Medical Center. They moved to San Antonio, TX where he was chosen the outstanding intern in his class at Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base. He stayed there for eight years, training in internal medicine and endocrinology, teaching and pursuing research. He earned an Air Force commendation medal for organizing metabolism studies at the medical center. Then he began to climb the academic ladder by moving to the University of Texas Medical School in San Antonio to teach and continue his research in nutrition and metabolism. He left in 1974 to become the clinical director of the division of arteriosclerosis and human nutrition at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, NY.

He moved again in 1977, this time to become chief of the division of nutrition at Mt. Sinai Medical Center and the University of Miami School of Medicine. In time, he became head of the diabetes section at Mt. Sinai Medical Center. Throughout this period, Dr. Kudzma had a private practice of endocrinology and metabolism in Miami Beach. Later, he turned to administrative positions in managed health care to help improve the quality of medical care, particularly for chronic ailments like diabetes. He became United HealthCare’s medical director for south Florida.

Dr. Kudzma authored articles in scientific journals and chapters in medical textbooks. The publications concerned the effects on the body of alcohol, various drugs and weight loss on cholesterol, fats, and ailments like diabetes. For many years, Dr. Kudzma scrutinized research manuscripts and advised editors whether they met the standards for publication in their scientific journals. He was a fellow of the American College of Physicians, American College of Endocrinology, and the American Heart Association. Dr. Kudzma received a number of honors recognizing his skills in Latin and metabolism.

In contrast to what he described as the “tyranny” of medical practice, Dr. Kudzma said retirement in Vero Beach was “luxurious” because he had “unstructured days and no assignments.” Yet, he also said, retirement “keeps challenging me to make it meaningful.” To do so, he continued as a Catholic lector and his lifetime unswerving interest and dedication to Catholic Liturgy. He said he was “driven to buy books that look interesting, and faster than I could read them.” Many books dealt with Latin literature. He also had time to expand his interests in horticulture. Dr. Kudzma and his wife, Joanne, supported efforts in animal welfare, traveled, and drove long distances to attend classical music concerts.

He leaves his wife of 60 years, Joanne Quinn Kudzma; a daughter, Kara of Denver; two sons, David Quinn of North Miami, and Timothy of Vero Beach; two grandchildren, Quinn and Ella Kudzma Park; and his two sisters, Sally Kahn and Mary Ann Denninghoff.

Reflecting on his life in an essay for his 50th Yale reunion, Dr. Kudzma said “on balance, life has been joyful.”