Dr. Richard Zakheim wasn’t Steve Austin, TV’s Six Million Dollar Man.
But he really was to his patients.
“The special thing about him was his ear … and it was better than an echocardiogram, better than anything. I could only hope some people have half the ear he had — or 10 percent,” said Hialeah Commissioner Paul Hernandez, Jr., one of his patients.
Hernandez, born with a congenital heart defect, had a 27-year relationship with the Miami Children’s Hospital cardiologist who founded the Pediatric Cardiology Department in 1977 and the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Clinic in 2006 at the Kendall area medical institution, which was recently renamed Nicklaus Children’s Hospital.
Zakheim’s wife, Pamela, who formed the Cancer Support Community Greater Miami with her husband in 1999, has heard so many similar stories after his death on Tuesday at age 78 of cancer.
“He was one of those doctors trained in the old-fashioned way when all the wonderful, extraordinary tests were not developed. He had the ability to diagnose people with his ears and his eyes. Very unusual. He had the ability to connect with his patients in a way that they found to be profound,” she said from their Pinecrest home.
Hernandez, who had five open-heart surgeries under Zakheim’s care, considered him “a father figure. Every milestone I’ve crossed in this life I’ve always thought of him right away next to my parents. The night I was elected I reached out to him just to see that smile on his face. He had a sense of pride in seeing his patients succeed and do well.”
Sgt. Paul Hernandez Sr. of the Miami-Dade Police Department, took one look at Zakheim decades ago and refused to get a second opinion. He just knew this man could help his son.
“I could tell by his face,” he said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Your son is very ill. We’ll straighten him up.’ I was in my 20s and that’s all I needed to know. Hearing him talk was such a comfort to any parent. Let’s leave the ‘Human X-ray’ to look at it and he’ll tell you what’s up.”
Zakheim, born in New York City on Feb. 26, 1937, received his medical degree at Albert Einstein Medical School. After serving as a pediatrician and cardiologist at the Malcolm Grow USAF Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., and as a director of the cardiology program at the University of Texas Health Science Center, he moved to Miami Children’s in 1977.
Zakheim worked there until April this year, devoted to patient care from childhood onward, hence his dedication to the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Clinic. “He wanted to assure Miami had a place where they could be seen as well,” his wife Pamela said. The city of Miami proclaimed June 4, 2013, “Dr. Richard M. Zakheim Day” for such commitment.
“He was an icon to generations of patients and residents at Miami Children’s Hospital, cardiology fellows and colleagues. I aspire to be like Dick all the time, and I’ve been here 18 years,” said Dr. Robert Hannan, a cardiac surgeon at Nicklaus. “We all have our feet of clay, but I’d have a hard time telling you what Dick’s feet of clay were.”
In addition to his wife, Zakheim is survived by his son, Dr. Alan Zakheim and daughter Amy Saffer, and grandchildren Brett, Nadine, Emory and Colby.
Services are at 10 a.m. Sunday at Mount Nebo/Kendall Memorial Gardens, 5900 SW 77th Ave., Miami. Donations may be made to the Cancer Support Community Greater Miami.
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Remembering Dr. Richard Zakheim
Jane Salvaggio, nurse practitioner in cardiovascular surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital:
“Many members of our [community] aren’t aware of Dr. Zakheim’s contributions and vision. I remember one night he stayed up all night at the bedside of a baby with complex congenital heart disease where there was no surgical option, trying his hardest to save the infant. He recruited surgeons and specialists to create the first heart program at Miami Children’s Hospital. He is the ‘Founding Father’ of all the excellence we have now.”
Joe Natoli, Senior Vice President for Business and Finance and Chief Financial Officer, University of Miami:
“My wife and I first met Dick Zakheim more than 25 years ago, when our then 6-year old son was suffering from a terrible illness. He made an immediate impact. He was a brilliant physician, but it was the compassion that he showed to our son and our family that made him so remarkable. Over the years, I’ve met many other parents who encountered Dick Zakheim at the lowest point in their lives and we all had the same experience.”
Pamela Zakheim, cofounder of the Cancer Support Community Greater Miami with her husband, Dr. Zakheim:
“He was an extraordinary, kind man with tremendous integrity. He would never do a test that wasn’t necessary. He would be able to know what was going on with you. It was inherent in him, tremendous passion. This was a man who read a cardiology journal every single day of his life.”
Dr. Deise Granado, Senior Vice President of Medical and Academic Affairs and Chief Medical Officer, Nicklaus:
“Dr. Zakheim will be deeply missed, however he has left his permanent imprints of hope and commitment to every child he cared for during his remarkable career. An excellent colleague and an outstanding clinician who will always be remembered by all of us and by the countless families and children whose lives he touched.”