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Necessity is the Father of Invention

Dr. Julius Berger
Dr. Julius Berger, Head of the Dental Department, Kings County Hospital

After decades as a dentist, Dr. Julius Berger figured he would never again feel stumped about any problem looking up at him from the dentist's chair. But then a man whose entire upper jaw and palette had been removed due to oral cancer came to him asking for oral implants, and he was stuck.

“I didn't even know where to start,” said Dr. Berger. “Without a palette, his mouth was practically useless- he couldn't eat or speak.” The problem required creative thinking- how could he perform the surgery on someone without an upper jaw?

Moved by the man's state, Dr. Berger set off to work. Using his usual tools of putty, an impression tray and determined ingenuity, he made a mold of the patient's oral cavity and placed two implants into the base of his skull. Then he cast a flat gold bar that he attached to the implants and fastened a set of dentures onto the bar, leaving the man with a new palette and set of teeth. The results were instant; the patient's oral functions were completely restored.

“It still makes me smile to think that I could do that. A fairly simple procedure changed that man's life,” said Dr. Berger.

That mix of resourcefulness, determination and invention is what has shaped Dr. Berger's role as Professor and Chairman of the Department of Dental and Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery at Kings County Hospital and what has made his work invaluable to the thousands of patients who use the facility each year. Earlier this year Dr. Berger's leadership was recognized by the Fund for the City of New York with the Sloan Public Service Award. He was honored for the contributions he has made to medical technology, education and direct patient care for the past 40 years of his career.

“Dr. Berger is committed to knowing his residents well and guides us until we are ready to conduct procedures on our own. After that, he backs away and keeps a watchful eye. He runs a tight ship,” said Dr. Donita Dyalram-Silverberg , a resident in the six-year dual degree dental and medical doctor program, one of the first of its kind in the nation and one of the four residency programs Dr. Berger has implemented at King's County.

“Don't think he stops working when he gets home,” said Ellen, his wife of 48 years. “There's no downtime.”

This has always been true for Dr. Berger. After graduating from City College he started a medical technology company and invented a microscope with foot-pedal-controlled focus as well as a machine to freeze-dry chemicals. After that, he created a feeding device that helps children with cleft palettes to swallow food.

Dr. Berger's leadership has pulled the department through tough times, even when it was in danger of closure years ago.

“He leads by example and is adaptable to change…and he certainly has charisma!” said Dr. Abha Agrawal, Medical Director at Kings County. “That's what you need in a hospital environment.”

 

June 2010

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