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Dr. Elijah Saunders remembered as driven, unselfish, committed

Stacy M. Brown | 4/9/2015, 5:48 p.m.
Prior to adjourning on Tuesday, April 7, 2015, members of the Maryland State Senate observed a moment of silence not ...
Dr. Elijah Saunders, a cardiologist who served as professor of medicine and head of the section of hypertension at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, died early Tuesday. He was a pioneer in research related to African Americans and hypertension. (Above) Dr. Saunders explains how diabetes impacts coronary arteries, which can cause a heart attack. Leslie Hendricks/Faces of Diabetes

— A pioneer in research related to African-Americans and hypertension, Dr. Saunders was a founding member of The International Society of Hypertension In Blacks (ISHIB) and was recognized as an expert on hypertension, especially as it relates to people of African descent.

“He understood hypertension better than anyone and he also looked at the management of diabetes and, rather than making it a crutch, he showed where if properly treated, medication might not be needed,” Shaneman said. “Everyone who knew him was affected in some way.”

Four years ago, Dr. Saunders received the prestigious Herbert W. Nickens Award from the American Association of Medical College, which is given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions to promoting justice in medical education and health care equity in the United States.

“He [was] an energetic and powerful mentor and role model,” Dr. Albert Reece, vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, said in a previous interview. “Throughout his career, Dr. Saunders repeatedly demonstrated his willingness to step forward and be the first.”

Upon Dr. Saunders graduation from medical school, he reportedly was one of only four black medical students in his class of 140 and he was the first black resident to be trained in the cardiology and internal medicine programs, the first black cardiologist in Maryland, and he was instrumental to desegregating the University of Maryland’s hospital wards in 1963.

Dr. Saunders also started the Hair, Heart, and Health (HHH) program to train barbers to perform blood pressure screenings and to refer clients to local health centers. More than 1,800 individual were screened through the program, the vast majority being African-Americans. As a direct result of his findings, U.S. drug companies reportedly now make a point of including African-Americans in their clinical trials, helping ensure all races benefit from research breakthroughs.

“He’s done everything within his power to make equality the standard instead of the goal,” Reece said.

And like many others, Nathan-Pulliam and Shaneman both said he’ll be missed.

“Dr. Saunders is going to truly be missed,” Nathan-Pulliam said. “It’s such a tremendous loss and he was such a special person.”

Arrangements for Dr. Elijah Saunders

Friday, April 10, 2015 at Transformation Church

5150 Baltimore National Pike in Baltimore

Viewing — 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Pre-Celebration — 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Sunday, April 12, 2015, at New Psalmist Baptist Church

6020 Marian Drive in Baltimore

Family Greeting from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Funeral Service begins at 6:30 p.m.