Physician, 57, Killed by Falling Ice While Hiking

Marcia Frellick

December 28, 2018

Judith Pinsker, MD, 57, a primary care physician for more than two decades at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, was struck and killed by falling ice on December 23 while hiking with her husband, two sons, and friends in Crawford Notch State Park in New Hampshire, according to multiple news sources.

Dr Judith Pinsker. Tufts Medical Center

According to the Conway Daily Sun and the New York Post, rescue teams helped the hikers, who included Pinsker's husband of 27 years, Benjamin Smith, MD, a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women's in Boston, in lifting Pinsker in a litter out to the Arethusa Falls parking lot. Pinsker was then transported to Memorial Hospital in North Conway. She experienced severe head injuries and blood loss, according to a member of the rescue team.

"[D]espite the best efforts of her family, friends and volunteers she did not survive," the paper quoted New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officer Sgt. Alex Lopashanski as saying.

Smith told the Boston Globe that Pinsker was a "force of nature" who loved the outdoors and baking and served on the advisory board of Timmy Global Health, a nonprofit group that sends medical service teams around the world. The Globe said she also spoke fluent Spanish and often accompanied the Timmy Global Health teams on trips.

According to her obituary, Pinsker also played flute with the Wellesley (Massachusetts) Town Band and All Newton Music School.

Marge O'Connor, NP, a nurse practitioner at Primary Care Boston at Tufts Medical Center, comanaged a medical team with Pinsker for two decades. She told Medscape Medical News that Pinsker was preparing to go on another Timmy Global Health trip, to Guatemala, at the beginning of January.

O'Connor returned to work Monday after hearing the news Sunday evening. She said, "It's a very sad place," with a steady stream of condolence emails and flower deliveries. She has had to tell the awful news to many patients who hadn't heard.

"Judy was the epitome of a primary care doc," O'Connor said. "She got into the heart and soul of patients. She wanted to understand them. She was so relatable."

She said, "Patients trusted her. They said, 'She's so real.' " She was also a go-to doctor for other physicians to bounce their thoughts on case studies off her, and Pinsker was the primary care doctor for many other physicians, O'Connor said.

Although she technically worked part-time after she had her children, Pinsker would call patients on the way to and from work and helped medical students in addition to her clinical duties, O'Connor said.

O'Connor said Pinsker also really enjoyed work precepting with residents.

Jack Khouri, MD, a hematology/oncology fellow with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, was one of those residents when he did his internal medicine residency at Tufts General Medical Associates (GMA) from 2013 to 2016.

"She certainly was an outstanding and well-rounded physician and educator and a beloved member of GMA," he told Medscape Medical News. "She was well known amongst residents for her compassion, friendliness, passion for teaching, and humility. My patients loved her and were always happy to hear that she was my preceptor for the day. 

"She not only taught me about medicine but more importantly how to be compassionate and treat the patient as a whole. Given we both had a similar interest in music, she used to share with me her passion for music, which is a side of her personality that I totally admired.

"I am deeply saddened by this tremendous loss. The medical community and our patients have lost a special physician," Khouri said.

Pinsker's obituary noted that she graduated from Teaneck High School in 1979, Princeton University in 1983, then Harvard Medical School; completed her residency at Rhode Island Hospital; and received a master's degree at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center before she began more than 20 years of practice at Tufts.

Kimberly J. Van Zee, MS, MD, attending surgeon, breast service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, told Medscape Medical News that Pinsker was her roommate during medical school and remained one of her closest friends.

She said Pinsker once told her the story of how she worked for months to help a nursing home resident address her various medical problems, resulting in the very thin woman's marked improvement, and she regained much of her weight. However, her insurance company would then not pay for larger adult diapers.

"Undaunted, Judy persisted and eventually succeeded in convincing the insurance company that this purchase was justified," she said.

Van Zee added, "Judy had an incredibly wise perspective on life. I had opened her annual holiday card just minutes before I heard of the awful accident. Her message was as entertaining as ever, and she closed with the poignant statement, 'We remain acutely aware that we are lucky and privileged and that the fabric of our lives is fragile.' How true. The world is a poorer place without her. I will miss her so."

"There Are No Words"

In announcing her death to colleagues and staff, Tufts said, "She leaves a loving family and hundreds of Primary Care Boston patients who have been fortunate to experience her expertise and warmth. There are no words at times like these. We will be keeping Dr. Pinsker and her family in our thoughts this holiday season."

Tufts also forwarded to Medscape Medical News a statement from Deborah Blazey-Martin, MD, chief of internal medicine and adult primary care at Tufts Medical Center, who said, "She was thoughtful, compassionate, meticulous and always there for her patients and her colleagues."

Pinsker and Smith, of Wellesley, have two sons, Eric Pinsker-Smith, 22, and Jeffrey Pinsker-Smith, 20, according to the Globe.

ABC affiliate WCVB quoted Sgt. Alex Lopashanski, of the Fish and Game Department, as saying of Pinsker's death in the popular tourist area, "It's a tragedy any time of year, but especially hits hard [at the holidays]. People go into the mountains, and people don't expect these things to happen. It's the last thing anybody expects to happen."

The Conway Daily Sun reported that visitation will be held from 4 to 8 pm Friday at the George F. Doherty & Sons Funeral Home in Wellesley. The family requests that any donations go to Timmy Global Health, 22 East 22nd Street, Indianapolis, IN 46202.


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