Doctors-in-training were always crowding around him, physician-peers trusted his insight and patients were assured that Dr. Steven Walerstein would truly understand their concerns.
Walerstein, a resident of Dix Hills who had been a physician, senior administrator at Long Island hospitals, a professor and mentor, died Wednesday. He was 63.
At the time of his death Walerstein was senior vice president and associate chief medical officer for the Northwell Health system. Earlier in his career he served as chief medical officer at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow and director of the internal medicine residency program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park.
Walerstein’s son, Jason, described his dad as his best friend: “Every interaction was a lifelong lesson, even if it was something quite simple like a Little League game. If I lost, he would say, ‘Hey, you did well, you did your best.’"
The doctor’s colleagues recalled his kindness, generosity and most of all his strength, which they say was evident over the past several years as he battled recurrent, benign brain tumors. He lost vision in one eye because of the condition but Walerstein never stopped working or inspiring patients. He died of complications related to the disorder.
“Steve was my co-pilot on an eight-year adventure at the helm of Nassau University Medical Center,” said Arthur Gianelli, president of Mount Sinai St. Luke’s in Manhattan.
Gianelli was president and chief executive of Nassau Health Care Corporation when he worked with Walerstein in the early 2000s.
“Steve believed in the place. He believed in the doctors. He believed in the staff and with that kind of energy we were inspired,” Gianelli said.
“Steve fought valiantly these last 4½ years, harder than anyone ever should have to. He died as he lived — bravely, vibrantly, and as an example for all of us to live by,” Gianelli said.
Dr. Maria Carney, medical director of post-acute services at Northwell Health and chief of geriatric and palliative medicine, described her colleague as the consummate physician.
Even after developing trouble with his eyesight, Walerstein met with patients and encouraged them, said Carney, a former Nassau County health commissioner.
“He spoke to people about the importance of sharing information with their doctors, about what is important to them as patients,” Carney said.
“I considered him a friend, a colleague and mentor. He was a man of great integrity, a very good man, who fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves,” added Carney, who worked closely with Walerstein during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.
Among Walerstein’s attributes was “one heck of a sense of humor,” Carney said.
Gianelli remembered Walerstein as the New York Yankees’ biggest fan.
Walerstein was born Aug. 24, 1955, in Brooklyn but his family moved to Elmont, where he spent much of his youth. He graduated from Elmont Memorial High School and enrolled in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, where he met his future wife. Both were in the six-year joint biomedical program with the University at Albany School of Medicine.
Theirs was a made-for-each-other relationship, Jason Walerstein said of his parents. His mom, Dr. Donna Walerstein, became a specialist in emergency medicine. Both parents often discussed cases.
“My sister and I would hear this at dinner or while on trips or long drives,” Jason Walerstein recalled, but added that it was the lessons about life that will remain indelible.
“The biggest thing he made sure I knew was the importance of building strong relationships with family, friends and co-workers. I hope that I have lived up to that," he said.
In addition to his son and wife, Walerstein is survived by a daughter, Shara Stacke; son-in-law Simon Stacke; grandchildren Linnea and Henrik Stacke; and daughter-in-law Meagan Walerstein.
A memorial service was held Friday at Gutterman’s Funeral Home in Woodbury. Memorial donations in Walerstein’s honor can be made to the American Brain Tumor Association.