When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was wheeled into the emergency room at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dr. Amy Reed took control.
It didn’t matter, she told her critical care team, that they were horrified by what the young Boston Marathon bomber had done a few days earlier. He was their patient, and they had to give him the same top-notch care they had recently given six of his victims.
“Amy calmed everybody down, got everybody on the same page, and went about her work,” said Dr. Daniel Talmor, chief of anesthesia, critical care, and pain medicine at the hospital.
Later in 2013, shortly after giving birth to her sixth child, Dr. Reed underwent surgery to remove what was supposed to be a harmless cyst. But the surgeon used a device called a power morcellator that spread what were later discovered to be malignant cells throughout her abdomen — turning what would have been a stage 1, readily treatable cancer into a stage 4 lethal case.
She and her husband, cardiac surgeon Hooman Noorchashm, decided to spend her remaining time fighting to abolish morcellation, then used on tens of thousands of American women a year.
Dr. Reed, 44, who was a critical care specialist and anesthesiologist, died Wednesday of leiomyosarcoma of the uterus, after successfully turning most of the medical community away from morcellation.
The fight was not easily won. Drs. Reed and Noorchashm lobbied Congress and federal bureaucrats, endured personal smears, and challenged a “medical-industrial complex,” Talmor said, that clearly didn’t want to change.
“They turned their personal tragedy into something good for other patients,” he said. Dr. Reed was certainly very brave on her own, Talmor said, “but as a couple, they were unbelievable.”
The two met when they were both in MD/PhD programs at the University of Pennsylvania. Noorchashm converted to Catholicism, but the family also continued to celebrate holidays that represented his Persian heritage.
Dr. Reed, who received her undergraduate degree from Penn State, was born in Bristol, Pa., the oldest of eight children, and always wanted a large family of her own. The couple had their first three children while Dr. Reed was in medical school; by the time she completed her residency, they had five.
She didn’t care if people thought she was crazy for having so many children, said her friend, Dr. Meghan Lane-Fall, an anesthesiologist and critical care doctor at Penn.
Lane-Fall said her friend’s attitude was, “This is my life and this is how I’m going to live it.” “She wasn’t looking for permission from people,” Lane-Fall said.
She and Dr. Reed met in 2005 while they were both interviewing for medical residency positions at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. When Dr. Reed learned that Lane-Fall would be interviewing at Penn, she advised her to ask why they didn’t have more female faculty members.
“Even as a medical student, she was thinking, ‘How are we going to achieve change?’ and ‘What are the things that need to be changed?’ ” said Lane-Fall, who did ask about faculty gender. The two became fast friends when they ended up as residents at Penn, and remained close.
Dr. Reed always had high standards for herself and for her peers.
“She really did demand excellence from herself and from all the people around her, but people were attracted to her for that,” said Dr. Michael Paasche-Orlow, a professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine, who attended medical school with Noorchashm. “It really raised the bar for quality of care for the whole group.”
She was an incredibly forceful person, “who had a sense of justice and of purpose,” Paasche-Orlow said. “It’s much better to be on Amy’s side than not on Amy’s side.”
Drs. Reed and Noorchashm moved to Boston in 2011. He came to work at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; she at Beth Israel Deaconess. Both hospitals are affiliated with Harvard Medical School. After Dr. Reed’s 2013 surgery, the couple sued the Brigham, where it was performed, and Noorchashm resigned from the hospital. The lawsuit is pending.
With Noorchashm out front and Dr. Reed quietly calling the shots, sometimes from her sickbed, the two launched a national offensive against morcellation.
In late 2014, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning against the routine use of power morcellators, and Johnson & Johnson, the largest manufacturer, withdrew its devices from the market. Some smaller companies continue to make the device, and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ latest statement on morcellation says that it can be used safely in cases in which there is no cancer.
Although the procedure is rarely used now, Drs. Reed and Noorchashm continued to hear from people whose tumors were spread with morcellators, and they remained active in fund-raising events for the National LeioMyoSarcoma Foundation.
For the last three years, the couple lived in Yardley, Pa., with Noorchashm working at Penn.
Dr. Reed was too sick to return to medicine full time after the move, but she consulted with her old department at Penn, Lane-Fall said, attending interviews and building a new department website, which is expected to go live soon.
In her spare time, Dr. Reed also renovated an old farmhouse to fit her large family — and to accommodate the friends and relatives who always seemed to be dropping by. That wasn’t enough for her either, so she began raising chickens and bees, and started a garden.
“Her mind is very active,” Lane-Fall said. “If it wasn’t being stimulated by science, or patient care, it was going to be stimulated by something.”
Dr. Reed died at home, surrounded by her husband and children, Nadia, Ava, Joseph, Joshua, Luke, and Ryan. She also leaves her parents, JoAnn Trainer and William Reed, and her seven siblings, Alison Perate, Andrea Kealy, Amber Trainer, Matthew Reed, Justin Reed, Daniel Trainer, and Sarah Trainer.
Everyone who works in critical care confronts death on a regular basis, Lane-Fall said.
“Amy would have seen a lot of her patients die, as a lot of us do,” she said. “That makes you think what your own life means and how you might get through death.”
The fight against morcellation helped give that death meaning, Lane-Fall said. Drs. Reed and Noorchashm thought it was their responsibility to lead the charge because they had the expertise and resources to do it.
“Amy knew that her life span would be significantly shortened. Given that, how do you make some sense of a horrible situation?” Lane-Fall said. “So I’m not surprised they did this. I’m kind of amazed at how far they got.”Karen Weintraub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.