Einstein Mourns the Loss of Longtime Faculty Member, Leading Hematologist
On July 31, Einstein learned of the death of Dr. Christine Lawrence following a battle with cancer. A distinguished university professor of medicine emerita who also had served as director of the Clinical Hematology Training Program at Jacobi for several decades, she was 90. In addition to being a critical member of the Einstein faculty for 44 years, she was also the widow of founding Einstein faculty member Dr. Milford Fulop, who died in 2015.
When Dr. Lawrence retired nearly 20 years ago, she left a unique legacy housed within the national Health Education Assets Library (HEAL) a digital library of multimedia teaching resources for the health sciences. HEAL provides access to several thousand video clips, animations, presentations, and audio files that support healthcare education. Dr. Lawrence provided some 600 images to the library, culled from over 2,000 amassed over more than 40 years in her hematology collection developed at Jacobi Medical Center. This peer-reviewed website offers a broad array of images as free educational aids to students, technicians, researchers, and physicians worldwide.
As a hematologist who studied what a blood smear could reveal about a patient's past habits, their present illness, and their prognosis, Dr. Lawrence’s blood sample images catalogued the various clues they lent to recognizing and diagnosing a host of diseases and disorders. She was especially pleased that the arrangement would allow her images to be available to caregivers in underserved communities, where access to a laptop could allow them to better assist their patients.
She initially had made the images available exclusively to Einstein students via the College of Medicine website, noting, “They are a great teaching tool because they offer the perspective for interpreting the blood's role in diseases, disorders and text slides."
A Meticulous Physician-Scientist
Among the fellows and attending physicians who trained under her in Jacobi’s hematology division, Dr. Lawrence was known for her keen observations and her exacting approach to learning what ailed a patient.
“Chris always stressed the importance of putting together a case by looking at all of the back history, from as far back as possible to the present,” said Dr. Henny Billett, an unofficial mentee of Dr. Lawrence who is now professor of medicine at Einstein and chief of hematology at Montefiore. “She insisted, the more detailed the past history, the better you could arrive at the current, correct diagnosis. It’s something I remind our trainees today.”
She added, “Asking anyone who trained under her about proper slide preparation or ‘polylobe’ counts [in neutrophils, which can indicate disease or risk of infection] is bound to elicit a smile.”
“Chris lorded over the best structured medical student elective,” recalled Dr. Edward R. Burns, executive dean, whose office at Jacobi was just a few doors down from the hematology residents’ room. “She was proud of being among the first phase of accomplished women in medicine and equally loving and proud of her own family.” That was especially true where her children Michael and Tamara were concerned. Both followed their parents into medicine, Michael, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, as a psychiatrist and Tamara, class of 1993, as a radiologist.
Seeking Answers in Blood
Dr. Burns added, “A particular crowning achievement of hers, which as an academic hematologist also fills me with pride, was when a pair of her great images each appeared on the cover of two separate issues of Blood, the preeminent academic journal on hematology in the world.”
The images, which appeared in Blood, Volume 78, October 1991 and Blood, Volume 90, October 1997, illustrated red cells from a patient with both Hb G-Philadelphia and Sickle hemoglobin that Dr. Lawrence identified working with Dr. Ronald Nagel, a world-renowned red cell researcher at Einstein, who was professor emeritus of medicine and of physiology and biophysics, as well as chief of hematology before his death in 2016.
Dr. Lawrence described, “One day I was called to see this young man who was having a mild Sickle-like crisis. On a blood smear, I saw unusual “sugarcane”-like crystals, unlike any I had ever seen.” Further investigation in Dr. Nagel’s lab led to the new discoveries.
Christine “Tina” Lawrence was born on October 18, 1930, in New York City, and spent her formative years during the Depression in Rego Park, Queens. Her family spent summers at their farm house in Clinton, NJ, where she began horseback riding. When she was 9, her family moved to Wilmington, DE, where she ultimately became a competitive equestrian and won many blue ribbons on her high jumper Tinka.
During several summers before heading to University of Michigan in 1948, she was given the opportunity to break in new yearlings at the estate of William DuPont, including riding from the gate at the Wilmington Race Track, which DuPont built and owned. In a biography that she compiled for her children and grandchildren a few years ago, she noted, “I was the only female allowed on the track.”
An accomplished skier as well, during college she was offered a position on the Olympic farm ski team. But her desire to pursue medicine, something she’d known since age 9, led her to the College of Physicians & Surgeons after graduation. Going to medical school was her dream come true. She was 1 of just 10 women in a class of 100 and observed in her bio, “Now, the medical school student body is about 50% females.”
During third year of medical school, she developed a Strep throat with high fever. The ER doctor who examined her was Milford Fulop, who would soon after become her constant companion. The couple married in 1957.
Following graduation, she accepted an internship at Jacobi, where Milford was already on staff. Balancing work and family was not easy, she observed, noting, “…In those days, men did not feel obligated to help raise children…Michael and Tamara were jewels in my life. I did my very best combining a career, and being a mother. Now that they both have careers and children, they may better understand and appreciate those problems...”
She and Milford worked at Jacobi and Einstein for a total of 100 years—he 56 and she 44. In 2002, in recognition of her contributions to the medical school, then president of Yeshiva University conferred the honorific title of distinguished university professor of medicine emerita upon Dr. Lawrence. He noted, “Your professional ministration and scientific achievements are exceeded only by the humane attitude and compassionate feelings that have characterized your distinguished career.”
Dr. Lawrence is survived by her son and daughter, and their children.
Editor's Note: If you would like to leave a remembrance of Dr. Lawrence, please visit our Remembrance page.
Posted on: Wednesday, August 25, 2021