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By Gary Goldenberg
Two men from different worlds find common ground in neurological surgery at Einstein and Montefiore

Even an expert statistician would have trouble calculating the odds that David B. Keidan and Emad Eskandar, M.D., would ever cross paths.

The former is a septuagenarian Jew from India who runs an investment management firm in Manhattan. The latter is a 50-something Coptic Christian from Egypt who practices neurosurgery in the Bronx. And yet these two men, from different countries, cultures, generations, and professions, share an interest in raising neurological surgery at Einstein and Montefiore to new heights.

Investor and Philanthropist

Mr. Keidan was born into the small community of Baghdadi Jews of Bombay (now Mumbai) who migrated from Iraq to India in the late 1700s. Mr. Keidan left home for the United States in 1962 to study at Harvard College and then at Harvard Business School. Degrees in hand, he landed a job at Wertheim & Co., a Manhattan investment bank. A little over a decade later, he launched his own company, now called Buckingham Capital Management, which he runs to this day.

As Mr. Keidan prospered, he made a point of supporting Jewish organizations, mostly those affiliated with Harvard—taking up the mantle of his ancestors, the affluent and philanthropic Sassoon family of India, often called the “Rothschilds of the East.”

In the early 2000s, Mr. Keidan began searching for a worthy cause closer to home. John Gutfreund, a longtime member of the Montefiore Board of Trustees, suggested he look at Montefiore. “The more I looked into it, the more I liked it—a hospital started by Jewish philanthropists, for Jewish doctors that other hospitals would not hire, to serve patients other institutions could not, or would not, help,” Mr. Keidan says. “Its mission was, and is, a perfect example of ‘tikkun olam,’ or ‘repair of the world.’”

The Bronx is a melting pot par excellence—much like Montefiore and Einstein. Different perspectives, cultures, and ideas allow for synergies that can and do repair the world.

— David B. Keidan

His first visit to Montefiore was to the Center for Abused Women and Children. “That went right to my heart,” says Mr. Keidan, who joined the Board of Trustees in 2004. Later, he decided to support the pediatric critical-care unit, now named after him and his wife, Georgia.

In recent days, Mr. Keidan has turned his philanthropic attention to neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke, and depression. “These are growing problems for our aging population, with a devastating impact on families as well as patients,” he says. “We have a first-rate, interdisciplinary team at Montefiore to address these issues, and I want to do what I can to help this institution develop cutting-edge treatments.”

Mr. Keidan’s latest gift to Montefiore is an endowment to establish the David B. Keidan Chair in Neurological Surgery, which Dr. Eskandar now holds. At Einstein, Dr. Eskandar is also the Jeffrey P. Bergstein Chair in Neurological Surgery in the Leo M. Davidoff Department of Neurological Surgery.

Georgia and David B. Keidan attend an event at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, benefiting the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care.

“I’m proud of what this institution has done,” Mr. Keidan says. “Not only has our great leadership team created a unique model for community care, which has attracted the attention of Albany and Washington, D.C., but it also had the foresight to invest very early in electronic health records, which has put us at the forefront of leveraging health data for better care and better management.

“I admire the goals and the effectiveness of our community programs, which have done things like reduce unwanted pregnancies in schools, improve access to fresh, healthy foods, and reach into homes to take care of patients who are too sick to come to us,” he says. “This is unconventional medicine, outside the usual hospital mandate. But then, we are not a ‘usual’ hospital. The Bronx is a melting pot par excellence—much like Montefiore and Einstein. Different perspectives, cultures, and ideas allow for synergies that can and do repair the world.”

A Classic Immigrant Tale

The first physician to hold the David B. Keidan Chair in Neurological Surgery is, like Mr. Keidan himself, an immigrant who has risen to the highest ranks of his chosen profession. Emad Eskandar was just 9 years old when his family left Egypt for Nebraska, seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity.

A lover of all things scientific, Dr. Eskandar found that a career in neurosurgery was ideally suited to his talents. After completing his training, he joined the faculty at Harvard Medical School and over the next 18 years developed a reputation as one of the world’s top neurosurgeons, specializing in the treatment of epilepsy, trigeminal neuralgia, Parkinson’s disease, and brain tumors, employing and refining such advanced techniques as deep-brain stimulation, keyhole surgery, and stereotactic electroencephalography. He also ran a basic-science laboratory, studying the basal ganglia, a cluster of brain neurons that plays a role in learning, motivation, depression, and drug addiction.

I enjoyed my time at Harvard, but I felt there was a tremendous opportunity here in the Bronx to develop new clinical programs, promote new research, and reach out to a much broader group of patients.

— Dr. Emad Eskandar

In 2018, Dr. Eskandar joined Einstein and Montefiore. “I enjoyed my time at Harvard, but I felt there was a tremendous opportunity here in the Bronx to develop new clinical programs, promote new research, and reach out to a much broader group of patients,” he says. “Neurological surgery is quite strong at Einstein and Montefiore,” Dr. Eskandar adds. “However, there’s a huge mismatch between the scope of the department and the size of the population we serve, especially with the expansion of Montefiore’s health system.”

Under Dr. Eskandar’s leadership, Montefiore has opened a comprehensive stroke center (the only one between the Bronx and Albany, New York) and a comprehensive spine center (a joint effort with the departments of orthopedics and rehabilitation medicine). There are also plans for a center for surgical optimization within the spine center, a neurovascular center, and a skull-based-tumor center.

With the Keidan family’s generous support, we’ll be able to study new paradigms, such as neuromodulation, for the treatment of addiction, Alzheimer’s, and other devastating diseases.

— Dr. Emad Eskandar

Drs. Emad Eskandar, left, and Patrick LaSala, vice chair of neurosurgery, prepare the first implant of a responsive neurostimulator to treat epilepsy at Montefiore.

In addition, Dr. Eskandar intends to invest heavily in research. “I’m a scientist at heart, injecting research into everything I do,” he says.

“This is where the resources of the Keidan chair are invaluable,” he adds. “Many people don’t realize that the National Institutes of Health, the largest funder of biomedical research, tends to support fairly well established ideas—but not the edge-of-the-envelope studies that can transform healthcare. With the Keidan family’s generous support, we’ll be able to study new paradigms, such as neuromodulation [the application of electrical currents to modify parts of the brain], for the treatment of addiction, Alzheimer’s, and other devastating diseases.”

Unconventional thinking is nothing new for Dr. Eskandar. In 2014, he earned a master’s degree in business administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, seeking to apply the principles of business management to healthcare.

“There’s a whole body of knowledge about optimizing systems in different industries. We can learn lessons from this work and use it to better manage everything from emergency rooms to operating rooms to imaging suites,” he says. “Healthcare is notoriously complicated and inefficient. We need new fixes.”   

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