Elijah Saunders, 'Visionary' on Hypertension in Blacks, Dead at 80

Deborah Brauser

April 14, 2015

BALTIMORE, MD — Dr Elijah Saunders, a prominent cardiologist and researcher in the field of hypertension, died last week of cancer at the age of 80, according to published reports[1].Saunders was known as a staunch advocate for cardiovascular care in black individuals, was a past president of the International Society of Hypertension in Blacks, and was a founding member and president of the Association of Black Cardiologists.

Hailed as a pioneer for African Americans by his colleagues, he was one of only four black students in his class at the University of Maryland (UM) School of Medicine, the first black resident in internal medicine at the school, and the first practicing black cardiologist in Maryland in 1965.

"Despite the challenges, Dr Saunders followed his own vision for equality in healthcare and became a compassionate leader for what was, at the time, an often-overlooked patient population," notes a statement released by UM[2].

He later became a clinical professor at his alma mater, where he was head of the department of medicine's section of hypertension in the cardiology division. It was there that he conducted studies that eventually showed that certain-blood pressure medications and regimens are more effective for black patients.

Dr Elijah Saunders

In 2005, heartwire reported on his presentation of the INCLUSIVE trial[3] at the American Society of Hypertension 20th Annual Scientific Sessions. The open-label study included subgroups considered challenging for achieving blood-pressure targets, including African Americans. It showed that more than 70% of the participants who had previously failed to achieve BP goals on monotherapy reached their targets over several months on a fixed-dose combination angiotensin-receptor blocker and diuretic regimen.

Dr Louis Randall was a medical colleague and friend to Saunders. He told the Baltimore Sun[4] that Saunders was such an advocate that he would go out to barber shops to take blood-pressure readings of the patrons. "He was a bulwark in terms of hypertension in black men," said Randall.

Saunders published more than 50 peer-reviewed journal articles, authored nine books, was awarded the Herbert W Nickens Award in 2011 from the Association of American Medical Colleges, and was awarded the Louis B Russell Award from the American Heart Association in 1998 for his contributions to cardiovascular health in minorities.

Under the "Honors and Awards" section on his personal curriculum vitae, Saunders listed publication in 1998 of his article in the Baltimore Sunday Sun's perspective section titled, "The Value of Being a Guinea Pig," which encouraged minorities to participate in clinical research.

"The School of Medicine joins together with the entire University of Maryland community to mourn the loss of this great pioneer and visionary," said vice president of medical affairs at UM, Dr Dean Reece in a UM statement.

UM cardiovascular division head Dr Sanjay Rajagopalan added that Saunders was a selfless leader. "We are eternally indebted to him for his selfless contribution by continuing to provide uncompensated care for patients in our clinic for more than a decade."

The UM School of Medicine was working on establishing an endowed professorship in Saunders's name before his death — a goal that will continue. "Dr Saunders's passing only strengthens our resolve to honor his legacy," said Reece.

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