April 14, 2014
Remembering My Friend Eric Peselow MD
Mary Guardino Founder/Executive Director Freedom From Fear
On Saturday, March 22, 2014, I received a phone call from Naomi Peselow, the wife of my dear friend, Eric Peselow, MD. She informed me that Eric had collapsed that morning in their home. The medics could not revive him and he was pronounced dead after being brought to the emergency room of the local hospital. As she was telling me the details, I felt myself drifting away to another place and her voice became more and more distant. It was as if I was hearing a recording rather than the voice of Eric’s wife. Perhaps this was my reaction to this terrible news.
I met Eric in May of 1992. I can easily remember the day he came to interview for a position as a physician at Freedom From Fear. He was applying for a research psychiatrist position for the study of treatments for depression. The program was under the direction of Colombia Medical School and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. I clearly remember what he was wearing. It was a jogging suit made of the popular polyester fabric of the ‘90s. When I was speaking with him, I remember thinking, “I hope he knows more about psychiatry than he does about fashion.” It was the first time I ever saw a psychiatrist in a medical office wearing such an outfit, but I would soon learn Eric always did things his way and that way was always touched with nonconformity and a style only known to him.
Over the next 22 years, I had grown to deeply care for Eric and respect his brilliance in the field of psychiatry. He was a kind man who loved his work and took great joy in alleviating the pain and misery of those suffering with mental illness. For his memorial service on April 9, which was attended by more than 110 people, I prepared the following life history of Eric Peselow, MD. I hope you enjoy reading it. Additionally, I think you will really enjoy one of many comments from his patients. I selected “Tomato Sauce” because it is reverent, amusing and certainly will give you some insight to the Eric I knew and loved.
My name is Carol and I was a patient of Dr. Peselow’s. For years I was not diagnosed correctly, having many doctors try desperately to figure me out and put a name, and appropriate drug on what they thought I had. I suffered for years, until I was referred to Dr. P., as we called him at Freedom From Fear. I was in my 40s at the time, and thought this despair would never end.
When I first met him, he didn’t quite fit the appropriate mold of doctors I had met. I took one look at him and thought for sure I was doomed forever. There he was, sitting behind his office desk. He was casually disheveled and definitely not your soft spoken type at all. I was also distracted by what was on his shirt. Hmm…I think he had pizza for lunch because it looked like tomato sauce. I just kept looking at his shirt wondering what delicacy he had just eaten. I was hungry, I thought. After all, he was just another doctor trying to figure out the mystery of my brain and I’ve been there so many times before. But wait, this time it was different. He was asking me very specific questions about myself that other doctors hadn’t asked. Does he know something about me, my brain and does it have a name? The tomato sauce didn’t seem so interesting anymore. He was like Captain Kirk from the Starship Enterprise. Dr. P. was boldly going where no man had gone before. He told me my diagnosis. At first, I was a little uneasy hearing those words, but he reassured me there are many patients diagnosed with it, and the best of all, there were drugs for it. I wasn’t sure how I felt now, with a new doctor, a new diagnosis and new drugs. I thought to myself, okay, I am ready. What have I got to lose? Maybe this doctor with the tomato sauce on his shirt knew something after all.
I am 61 years old today, married and living in Arizona. Dr. P. did diagnose me correctly. I saw him regularly over the years before my move out west. Of course, the tomato sauce was on his shirt lots of times since my first appointment, but that’s what made him so special. I will never forget him. He saved my life and will be sorely missed. RIP Dr. P.
And on another note, I would like to personally thank Mary Guardino, Dr. Connie Salhany, Freedom From Fear, and all the doctors and therapists who are there tirelessly and patiently working with patients like myself. Bless all of you.
Eric D. Peselow, MD was born in Brooklyn, NY and was a true Brooklynite, spending all of his years until his death in his beloved Brooklyn. He attended Brooklyn College where he graduated cum laude in 1972. Eric was a member of the chemistry club and also participated in many intramural sports including basketball, football and baseball. Eric was an avid sports fan his entire life. One achievement that Eric was most proud of was being named the National Baseball Trivia Champ in 1992 and 1994.
In 1972, he entered Georgetown University Medical School. This was quite a feat for this Brooklyn educated future doctor. At Georgetown, Eric excelled, winning honors in biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, and psychiatry. It was evident to his professors that Eric was on his way to an outstanding career in medicine.
In 1976, he began his residency in the Department of Psychiatry at New York University’s Bellevue Hospital Center. A few years later Dr. Peselow was appointed Chief Resident. Despite his intensive work schedule, he took a strong leadership role in all of the psychiatric services at the hospital including teaching of the junior residents and medical students. When Eric finished his psychiatric training, he joined the staff of New York Veterans Administration Medical Center where he worked for more than 30 years. He also joined the staff of NYU’s school of medicine as a clinical instructor. Some of Eric’s positions included Assistant Professor and Research Professor at NYU School of Medicine, Coordinator of Residency Training at the VA, and Director of the Psychiatric Emergency Room at Bellevue. In 1993, Eric became the Medical Director of Freedom From Fear in Staten Island, NY. He held this position until his passing.
Along with his tireless dedication to treating his patients, early in his medical career Eric became involved in research. He was a prolific writer and well-known psychiatric researcher. His research led to over 160 publications in various psychiatric journals. Dr. Peselow also presented his research frequently at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual conference. He served on the editorial board of numerous psychiatric publications including the American Journal of Psychiatry and the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. His major research interests focused on clinical psychopharmacology of affective disorders and schizophrenia. Dr. Peselow’s contributions to research and teaching were numerous and his medical students often awarded him “the best teacher of the year” award.
His work as a psychiatrist brought healing to thousands of suffering minds and hearts. These people will never forget him and his unique and unorthodox ways. There will never be another like Eric Peselow, MD. He will be dearly missed by those who knew him.
Freedom From Fear has organized a memorial fund in Eric’s memory. Donations are tax deductible and will be used for a project in conjunction with South Beach Psychiatric Hospital. The project will help people suffering from chronic mental illnesses to adjust to the community after they are discharged from long stays in the inpatient unit at the hospital. The monies will also provide these patients with items that they need to sustain themselves and help them adjust to their new environments. A special food pantry will also be set up with this money.
Make checks payable to: Freedom From Fear, Peselow MD.
308 Seaview Avenue, Staten Island, NY, 10305.
For further information, please call (719) 351-1717(719) 351-1717 ext. 21
“Say not in grief he is no more – but live in thankfulness that he was.”
FEATURED ARTICLES IN MINDFUL MATTERS:
Mindfulness and Meditation: Question and Answer
Effective Parenting- A Social Worker’s Perspective
Key Lessons Learned in The Journey of Changing Careers
Celebrating 30 years of support, research and advocacy to people with mental illness and the family and friends who support them.
Freedom From Fear is a national not-for-profit mental health advocacy organization. Mary Guardino founded FFF in 1984 as an outgrowth of her own personal experiences having suffered from anxiety and depressive illnesses for more than 25 years. The mission of FFF is to impact, in a positive way, the lives of all those affected by anxiety, depressive and related disorders through advocacy, education, research and community support.