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Terry Strom, 76, renowned transplant immunology researcher

Dr. Strom served as the chief of immunology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and was a professor of medicine and surgery at Harvard Medical School.Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

As he lay decades ago in an Illinois hospital bed, Dr. Terry Strom wasn’t expected to hold on through the night.

A high school football injury had left him with subdural hematomas, and his mother persuaded a top surgeon to offer an opinion. The doctor would attempt surgery if he made it to morning, “but he didn’t expect him to live,” said Dr. Strom’s wife, Margot Stern Strom.

“He lived,” she added, and those two words were, if anything, an understatement.

Having grown to 6 feet 4 inches by the time he was 14, Dr. Strom lived large, figuratively and literally, for the rest of the life he had been expected to lose that night. When the head trauma ended his football career and took away his athletic scholarships, he turned to medicine and became one of the world’s top researchers in immune tolerance for transplant patients.


When Dr. Strom died in Brigham and Women’s Hospital Dec. 20 of complications from a bone marrow transplant, he was still expanding the realm of knowledge in his field.

At 76, and having lived in Brookline for decades, “he was a world leader in transplantation immunology, whose discoveries in the domain of cellular immunology transformed the field,” wrote Dr. Mark Zeidel, who chairs the Department of Medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where Dr. Strom had been chief of immunology.

“He trained and collaborated with all of the leaders in this field and helped develop the highly successful therapies we have today in solid organ transplantation,” Zeidel added in a message to colleagues.

For most people, that would have been sufficient to repay the debt of a second chance on life, but it wasn’t enough for Dr. Strom.

“He really, really, really wanted to live. He was not at all peaceful or OK about dying,” said his daughter, Rachel Fan Stern Strom of Brooklyn, N.Y. “He felt he was in the prime of his career. He had so much to do with work, and he wanted so much to spend more time with his family.”


Dr. Strom kept working after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2012. And he kept doing everything else, too.

“To know him was to adore him,” his wife said. “You wanted to be in Terry’s circle, just to know him. And all of our friends from high school and college feel the same way. He was just a guy’s guy, he was a woman’s guy, he was a kids’ guy. His grandchildren adored him.”

Dr. Strom watched campy horror movies with a grandson, shot hoops, read four books at a time, and went for a daily run. “He needed to run every morning at 6 o’clock,” his wife said.

He also made his wine, sometimes with friends who were Nobel Prize-recipients, and his varied tastes in music might have surprised his scientific peers. Dr. Strom “showed me that old people could be cool,” his grandson Max said in a eulogy.

“I stole his CD of Outkast, a hip-hop group, because my parents wouldn’t let me listen to explicit music when I was little. I still have it in my room,” Max added. “He taught me lessons in music, film, and history, every day.”

In his eulogy, Dr. Strom’s son, Adam, who also lives in Brookline, said simply that “my dad was a legend” and added: “I do not believe his story is finished.”


Terry Barton Strom’s story began on Chicago’s South Side. An earthy term for his occasionally rambunctious behavior popped up in descriptions by family and scientific colleagues alike. He was “by all accounts a bad-ass kid,” Dr. Laurence A. Turka and Dr. Manikkam Suthanthiran wrote in a tribute published online at the Journal of Clinical Investigation website.

How badass? After his bar mitzvah, Dr. Strom and a friend figured they’d be spared further religious education if they egged the rabbi. It worked. The swanky Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago banned him for crashing too many wedding receptions — one involved a wedding cake and a food fight. Later on, he made no secret of his anti-Vietnam War stance while stationed in Florida with the Air Force. And he offered volunteer medical services to the Black Panthers in the late 1960s.

In high school, Dr. Strom was such a good football player that he and Dick Butkus, the future Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chicago Bears, were featured in a newspaper photo of up-and-coming stars.

When the traumatic head injury ended his playing, Dr. Strom went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which he left for medical school before finishing a bachelor’s degree, because of a lingering foreign language requirement.

As an undergraduate, he met Margot Stern, who years later would cofound Facing History and Ourselves. They were standing in line next to each other, alphabetically, while registering for classes. They married in 1964 and he graduated two years later from the University of Illinois College of Medicine.


“There were little things that would surprise you about him,” his wife said. “Terry loved a Montblanc pen. He loved gardening and seeing things grow. He just wanted to do anything and everything.”

Further medical training and a fellowship brought them to Boston, where he worked at what was then Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and then at Beth Israel, where he established its immunology department. He also was a professor of medicine and surgery at Harvard Medical School.

“Terry’s lab had a transformative impact in our understanding of transplant rejection and our goal of achieving transplant tolerance,” Turka and Suthanthiran wrote.

They said Dr. Strom’s many honors included the American Society of Nephrology’s Homer Smith Award, the Starzl Transplantation Institute’s Starzl Prize in Surgery and Immunology, and the American Society of Transplantation’s Established Investigator Award and Distinguished Achievement Award. Dr. Strom also was a past president of the American Society of Transplantation and founding president of Clinical Immunology Society.

A valued mentor whose conversations ranged easily from science to religion, history, politics, winemaking, and back to science, Dr. Strom “often joked about how he had forgotten his clinical skills, but nothing could be further from the truth,” wrote Dr. Martha Pavlakis, medical director of kidney and pancreas transplantation at Beth Israel, in a tribute. “His clinical acumen and kindness with his patients was just another side of him that drew people to him.”


A service has been held for Dr. Strom, who in addition to his wife, daughter, son, and grandson leaves his sister, Susan Mogerman of Springfield, Ill.; his brother, Michael of Chicago; and three other grandchildren.

“In a way, Terry was as much a part of the natural world I entered as the sun, the moon, and air to breathe,” Michael said in a eulogy. “He was a given, like the North Star — a fixed point I could use to see the path further ahead, like sailors looking to the sky to see where they were or which direction to turn.”

Throughout treatments, Dr. Strom “never lost his sense of joy — joy about his work, joy about his kids, joy about life,” his daughter said. “He was truly larger than life. I mean, he walked on water. He was just the luckiest, most incredible person.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at