May 17--Dr. Jerome Lee Sullivan III's theory linking excess stored iron in the
body to heart disease started a revolution.
"He not only came up with the theory, he also came up with a way to actually
prevent heart disease by donating blood regularly, particularly in men and
post-menopausal women, because that gets rid of the excess iron," said Dr. Laura
Geisel Sullivan, his wife of nearly 32 years.
The Dothan native, who was a physician, scientist and associate professor of
pathology, died May 3 in Winter Park, Fla., of complications from diabetes. He
Sullivan first theorized the link between iron and heart disease more than 30
years ago when he was a junior faculty member at the University of South Florida
in Tampa. He wondered why young women had so few cases of heart disease.
The most common guess at the time involved estrogen levels, but the young doctor
theorized that iron levels were the cause.
Men begin to accumulate higher levels of iron after they stop growing, but women
don't experience a similar rise because they lose iron-rich blood cells during
their monthly menstrual cycle.
His wife, also a pathologist, said scientific studies published over the years
back up his theory.
His paper, "Iron and the Sex Difference in Heart Disease," was first published
in the June 13, 1981, issue of the British medical journal The Lancet.
His wife said the first confirmatory research results from Finland appeared in
the American medical journal Circulation and resulted in intense media interest.
His photo and a lengthy article about his work appeared on the front page of the
Wall Street Journal on Sept. 8, 1992, followed by a cover story in US News and
World Report and a story in People magazine later that year.
Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, his wife said, and
studies have shown that regular blood donors have a reduced risk of heart
"Red blood cells are just packed with iron, so when you donate blood you lose
250 milligrams of iron, which is a lot," she said.
Sullivan was born Oct. 13, 1944, in Dothan and graduated from Dothan High School
in 1962. He was descended from several founding Dothan families. He was buried
May 7 at Memory Hill Cemetery on Hartford Highway in Dothan following a funeral
service at Byrd Funeral Home.
Sullivan earned his medical degree from the University of Florida and his Ph.D.
from Florida State University. He served on the faculties of University of South
Florida, Medical University of South Carolina, University of Florida and
University of Central Florida.
His wife said his New York Times obituary will be published this weekend.
Sullivan was a leading researcher in his field and delivered numerous lectures
in the United States and abroad. He was a quiet man most of the time, but would
become very animated and blossomed when discussing his research and his theory.
His wife describes herself as short and talkative, but "he was a tall, dark and
handsome Southern gentleman."
Because they shared professions and had a good marriage, their interests rubbed
off on their children.
When one of their daughters was having a routine physical exam, she was
explaining some symptoms she had to her doctor. A medical student who was there
was amazed by her description, and the doctor told him "both her parents are
doctors. That's why she talks like this."
"They (the children) picked up a lot at the dinner table," she said.
She feels adrift after losing her husband, colleague and friend, but values the
years they spent together.
"He was a brilliant, brilliant man, and he used it in a way that helped others,"
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