Dr. Brady: Renowned Radiation Oncologist
by dr. filip troicki with additional reporting by marta troicki
As I’m enjoying some great wine and even better conversation with my friend, mentor, and medical colleague Dr. Luther Brady at his Society Hill home, I have a view of a life-size portrait gracing the staircase: a distinguished man in his 50s wearing a long white coat. The subject of the painting is evidently confident, but this static image of the man is far removed from the real one. If Dr. Brady had retired when the painting was finished, he would still be one of the most accomplished people in the world of medicine—but, fortunately for us, as he celebrates his 87th birthday this month, Dr. Brady continues in his prolific achievements.
Since obtaining his medical degree from George Washington University in 1948 and doing his residencies in the emerging field of radiation oncology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania—right after serving in the navy during the Korean War—Dr. Brady’s professional résumé has grown to nearly 100 pages in length. He has published more than 800 papers and edited or authored over 100 textbooks and book chapters. The Dr. Brady and [Carlos] Perez textbook on radiation oncology, currently in its sixth edition, is referred to as “the bible” in the profession. I own two: one pristine with Dr. Brady’s signature across the front page—a prized possession. My second copy, used to excess, is in poor shape, with pages earmarked and highlighted, notes lining the margins, and a broken spine.
Despite his invaluable research and publications in the field of radiation oncology, Dr. Brady is foremost a clinician. As he begins his 50th year on the staff at Hahnemann University Hospital in 2013, Dr. Brady continues to care for patients there twice a week and at Philadelphia CyberKnife in Havertown the other days. Since he started practicing radiation oncology in 1956, medical technology has swiftly moved forward, and as it developed, so did Dr. Brady’s clinical toolbox. In 2006, he introduced the first linear accelerator on a robotic arm to deliver laser-precise radiation in the Philadelphia area; the Philadelphia CyberKnife in Havertown has treated over 1,500 patients and is the single busiest CyberKnife center in the country. This noninvasive, robotic, radio-surgery system is used to treat both cancerous and noncancerous tumors. “The CyberKnife center is now the most active program in the United States,” Dr. Brady explains, “and at the beginning everybody was very critical, but now there are seven of them in the Philadelphia area, so I guess imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.”
More than the technical instruments, it is Dr. Brady’s skill in treating tumors and complications that make him a leading physician, and his relationship with patients is key to his success. Despite his formidable schedule, patients receive Dr. Brady’s full attention; each one is guaranteed at least an hour of face time per appointment. At the end of each visit, he summarizes the findings, proposes a plan for the future, and always asks the patient to follow up in a few months. Many radiation oncologists release cancer patients after a few years of successful treatment, but Dr. Brady believes that continual follow-ups are necessary to ensure that the patient does not suffer from long-term complications, like secondary cancers or scarring caused by the radiation. His longest follow-up patient has been coming to see him for more than 35 years.
As a mentor to medical students and residents, Dr. Brady reminds those of us lucky enough to benefit from his wisdom of this fact: “First you are a clinician, then you are a radiation oncologist.” Dr. Brady admits, “My greatest accomplishment has been mentoring physicians to be successful and to build their CVs.” Every week since 1969, when he established the radiation oncology residency program at Hahnemann, Dr. Brady has met with medical students, residents, and faculty to offer advice and to hold discussions on various topics ranging from medicine to history, art, or music. “I don’t lose anything by it, and perhaps it’ll help someone,” he explains. These words couldn’t be truer for me.
In 2005 I was considering the idea of taking a year off from medical school to obtain a business degree. A fellow medical student recommended that I talk to Dr. Brady, who she considered “the guru that has all the answers.” The critical advice that I received has translated itself into all aspects of my life: “Make sure that it’s a worthwhile endeavor for you and for others.” Here, Dr. Brady separates himself from other mentors. To him, the care of the self is equal to the care of others.
Dr. Brady is not only a man of medicine: His involvement and support of the arts and music has had a far-reaching impact during a lifetime of patronage. Dr. Brady remembers a dinner party he attended back in 1948, when a college friend invited him to spend time with young artists of great talent but little recognition. “At the dinner were artists who were teaching at the California School of Fine Arts: Richard Diebenkorn, Sonia Gechtoff, William Wiley, Nathan Oliveira—a group that went on to be very well known,” Dr. Brady remembers. “And then I went to visit them in their studios, and that’s when I began to collect. It’s a bug. Once it bites, you cannot stop.” This was also when Dr. Brady decided these hard-working individuals deserved sponsorship to continue their creative efforts.
His support and his art collection began to grow larger and more meaningful throughout his adult life until, in March 2001, Dr. Brady’s donations led to the opening of the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery at George Washington University to display important pieces of contemporary art, free to the public.
Locally, Dr. Brady has served as the chairman of the Friends of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s executive committee and is an active member of its board of trustees. In recognition of his support, the museum established the Luther Brady Curatorship of Japanese Art in 1996. When visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art with Dr. Brady, it’s like walking into a U2 concert with Bono.
Dr. Brady’s interest in music, another great passion, started early in his childhood home in North Carolina when, on his sixth birthday, he received his first violin (a possession he still has). A great fan of opera, he has served on the board of directors of the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Santa Fe Opera, in whose city he has a second home. Of course, young musicians also receive his support, as Dr. Brady is involved with the Settlement Music School and the Curtis Institute of Music.
Dr. Brady’s passion for art and music not only benefits the cultural institutions he is involved with—it serves as an additional layer of therapeutic care when it comes to his patients. Toronto resident Kay Betts is a lifelong nonsmoker who was diagnosed with Stage 3B lung cancer, and had a lung removed in 2002. After meeting Dr. Brady at a birthday party for a mutual friend, they began to discuss her case and her search for a prophylactic treatment to prevent the cancer’s return. Dr. Brady had just such a treatment, in the form of monoclonal antibodies extracted from pigs that are delivered in radioactive iodine. After he reviewed her records, Betts received a call from Dr. Brady a few days later, saying that she was a good candidate. “I went down to Philadelphia three different weeks and had IV injections of monoclonal antibody,” Betts explains. “The amazing thing about it was that while his technicians were administering the treatment and running Geiger counters over me to make sure the radiation was going through my body, we were discussing opera. It was quite an experience.” Over the last decade Betts has maintained a close relationship with Dr. Brady, and she remains cancer-free, “Ten years later, after having stage 3B lung cancer, I was declared absolutely clear. He is a hero.”
photography by michael persico