Reviewing the accomplishments of E. Richard Stiehm, MD '57, one may think the “E” stands for Energizer, like the iconic bunny. Actually, he was named after his uncle, Ewald Stiehm, a Badger football star and the football coach at the University of Nebraska.
Richard Stiehm now is a distinguished research professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
While “Energizer Bunny” aptly describes him, Stiehm is a Badger who grew up in the shadow of University of Wisconsin-Madison’s football stadium.
Many of his relatives and friends are Badgers, too. His father, Reuben H. Stiehm, MD, was in the first intern class at Wisconsin General Hospital and later headed the Tuberculosis Detection Program at the Student Health Service. His mother, Marie Dueno Stiehm, graduated from the UW School of Nursing and served for many years as the head nurse at UW Hospital and Clinics’ (now UW Health) Tumor Clinic.
Stiehm was struck by the professional way his parents cared for patients with myriad health concerns. After his father died, Stiehm’s mother continued her career and raised four children with “remarkable strength and resiliency,” he notes.
Stiehm’s close friend — from elementary school through medical school and beyond — is Leon Rosenberg, MD ’57, who served as dean of Yale School of Medicine. He and Stiehm earned the Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association’s Alumni Citation Award in 1982 and 1988, respectively.
In high school, Stiehm was a Madison tennis champion. Neighbor Robert Schilling, MD ’43 (PG ’48) — then a medical resident at UW Hospital and Clinics — encouraged Stiehm’s tennis and eventually became a mentor. After Stiehm completed a bachelor’s degree at UW-Madison, he entered medical school, including three months of research in Schilling’s hematology laboratory.
“Dr. Schilling was curious, kind and a brilliant researcher,” says Stiehm.
A budding career
Stiehm made many moves throughout his training. After medical school, he completed an internship at Philadelphia General Hospital and married Judith Hicks Stiehm, PhD. His wife had earned her bachelor’s degree at UW-Madison and, later, earned a PhD in political theory at Columbia University.
The couple returned to Madison for Richard Stiehm’s graduate work in protein chemistry in the lab of SMPH Professor Harold Deutsch, PhD ’44.
Next were two years in the U.S. Navy Reserve at the Medical Acceleration Laboratory near Philadelphia, followed by a residency at Babies Hospital, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York.
After a two-year immunology fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco, Richard Stiehm was recruited by Charles Lobeck, MD, chair of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) Department of Pediatrics, to join his department.
Four years later, in 1969, the Stiehms moved to California, seeking relief from allergies and asthma for Judith Stiehm. They remain connected to UW-Madison and own Judith Stiehm’s family home near campus. Richard Stiehm is an SMPH visiting professor of pediatrics for a month every summer. His wife serves on the UW-Madison Political Science Advisory Board and received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2006.
The California years
At UCLA, Richard Stiehm was named chief of the Pediatric Immunology and Allergy Division and director of its training program. His chief interest is the care, cause and treatment of children with immunodeficiency. Shortly after his arrival at UCLA, he performed the West Coast’s first bone marrow transplant on an infant with combined immunodeficiency.
Retired, he no longer sees new patients, but he attends weekly immunology clinics, continues teaching and conducts research.
As Richard Stiehm grew his career at UCLA, Judith Stiehm became a professor of political science at the University of Southern California. Later, she was the provost of Florida International University in Miami and now is a professor of political science there.
Combined, they have traveled to nearly 100 countries, including, for him, research in childhood malnutrition in Ghana and Kenya.
“Our three daughters got a sense of responsibility early in life,” notes Richard Stiehm, adding that Jamie is a political columnist in Washington, D.C.; Carrie is a teacher in Los Angeles; and Meredith is a screen writer in Santa Monica.
Writing, editing and awards
Richard Stiehm serves as a reviewer for many peer-reviewed journals, author of more than 500 articles and chapters, chief editor of five editions of Immunologic Disorders in Infants and Children, co-editor of Stiehm’s Immune Deficiencies (2014), and editor-in-chief for the clinical immunology section of UpToDate, an online compilation of evidence-based medical information.
He has received numerous honors, including alumni awards from three universities and the Distinguished Service and Mentorship Awards of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. In September 2017, he was honored with an endowed chair in his name at UCLA. The position was supported by a former fellow, Roger Kobayashi, MD, and his wife, Ai Lan Kobayashi, MD; Meredith Stiehm and her husband, Tom Smuts; and Judith Stiehm.
Richard Stiehm takes steps, literally, to remain energized.
“Three times each week, I walk the 200 Santa Monica Stairs for an hour,” he says.
Maybe this is the secret to the perpetual energy that fuels Stiehm’s dedicated service.