Neonatologist Cleide Suguihara, M.D., Ph.D., Leaves Lasting Mark on Miller School

Cleide Suguihara, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics, who dedicated her life to saving the tiniest newborns, mentoring trainees around the world and sharing her wealth of research expertise in neonatology with colleagues and students, passed away May 9 after a brief battle against the cancer she had conquered nearly a decade ago. She was 67.

“Over the decades, so many babies have grown up healthier because of Dr. Suguihara,” said Judith Schaechter, M.D., associate professor and Interim Chair of Pediatrics. “She was a gifted researcher, an inspiring mentor and a gentle soul. She lived a good life, a life of great purpose, and will be missed by all those she touched — patients, families, students and colleagues.”

Soft-spoken and understated, Suguihara received her formal training in her native Brazil before arriving at UM for a research fellowship in 1983 and, three years later, establishing the Neonatal Developmental Biology Laboratory she directed until her death. Her quiet expertise was so impressive she was permitted to take her pediatrics and neonatology boards without having the requisite U.S. experience.

“She was exceptional,’’ said her friend and colleague Shahnaz Duara, M.D., professor of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology and Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the University of Miami at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where Suguihara was an attending physician for 14 years. “So exceptional that the chairman of pediatrics at the time sponsored her as one of those rare people who should be allowed to sit for the boards without training in this country. Of course she passed with flying colors.”

An advocate for and confidant of parents who were struggling to cope with the complicated care and needs of their extremely premature newborns, Suguihari coped with her own breast cancer diagnosis nearly a decade ago by launching a monthly lactation support group for new mothers. The class was so popular, it now meets weekly.

“She never said that’s why she was doing it, but that was like her – to focus on the positive,” Duara said. “Of course she knew that if you breast-feed your baby, your chances of getting breast cancer are lower, so that was her way of helping others.”

An expert in the daunting lung problems premature babies often face, Suguihara established the Neonatal Developmental Biology Laboratory in 1986, the same year she completed her research fellowship and joined the medical school faculty. Initially, she concentrated on breathing, hemodynamics and lung injury in neonatal models, and in later years, on pulmonary vascular biology and stem cell research. She also developed a model of blood supply to the lungs to help newborns with broncho-pulmonary dysplasia.

In addition to taking care of “her” babies in the NICU, Suguihara loved teaching, and mentored legions of fellows, residents, medical student and undergraduates. Many of them worked in the state-of-the art lab Duara said Suguihara designed “to the very last detail” at the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute to replace the one she built from scratch in 1986 in the Rosensteil Medical Science Building.

“She built both her research labs from nothing,” Duara said. “She also helped researchers all over campus. Go almost anywhere and you will find people who she helped with materials, setting up bioassays, or with equipment ordering. Anybody she could help she went out of her way to help.”

The daughter of Japanese Brazilians, Suguihara was born in Sao Paulo and earned her M.D. from the University of Campinas Medical School there in 1971. In 1979 she earned her Ph.D. from the University of Sao Paulo, where she was an assistant professor and attending neonatologist at the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, the Intermediate Care Unit and the Newborn Nursery until she came to Miami for her research fellowship in 1983.

Selected as the 1980 “Best Teacher of the Year” in Pediatrics at Sao Paulo, she returned to Brazil many times over the years to teach courses, particularly in research methodology. “There are approximately 100 fellows around the world trained by her,” Duara said.

Suguihara is survived by relatives in Brazil. Funeral services were held on May 14, at the Church of the Little Flower, 2711 Indian Mound Trail, Coral Gables.

Memorial donations may be sent in her memory to the foundation that supported her research, University of Miami Project: New Born, c/o Division of Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics (R-131), P.O. Box 016960, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami, FL, 33101.

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