Epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Band honored for lifelong work solving infectious disease outbreaks.
Above: Dr. Jeffrey Band in the microbiology lab at Beaumont Hospital
Our short time on Earth is characterized by the way we treat each other. An individual’s merit might be quantified by the number of lives that person has touched in a positive way. If this is true, then few people have had the same impact as Dr. Jeffrey Band.
Band, who is semi-retired from Beaumont Hospital and Wayne State University’s medical school, has spent much of his storied career as an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist.
In solving some of the most confounding and deadly disease outbreaks in the past 40 years, the Detroit native has touched lives uncounted. As an educator, he has helped train legions of doctors. Band has received accolades, awards and honors for his work since near the beginning of his career.
On Oct. 4, the University of Michigan Medical Center Alumni Society in Ann Arbor awarded Band its Distinguished Service Award for his many professional achievements.
“I spent eight years at Michigan and really haven’t had a lot of contact since. I was quite humbled and shocked,” says Band, whose former med school roommates and college friends surprised him at the event.
Noting the prestige of past recipients, he says, “I was truly in awe. Some of these individuals have been Nobel laureates — these are pioneers. It overwhelmed me that I was being selected.”
Perhaps he should not have been so shocked, given his own accomplishments.
“He has a strong personal commitment to always placing the patient’s interest first and was never willing to sacrifice quality or patient safety.”
— Robert Kass
After graduating from U-M in 1973 with degrees in medicine and music, Band completed his internship and residency at the University of Missouri, and then a postgraduate fellowship at the University of Wisconsin.
In 1978, he began his two-year training at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as an epidemic intelligence service officer. With his training complete, Band joined the special pathogens branch of the CDC’s Bacterial Disease Division in 1980.
A few days into his new position, Band was tasked with solving a mysterious outbreak of infection among dialysis patients in Washington. Infectious disease experts from the University of Washington as well as CDC investigators had already been working the case for several months before he arrived. University of Washington has one of the premier infectious disease programs in the U.S.
“The main textbook was written by all the University of Washington professors. And I’m going ‘Oh, my God, you’re sending me there?’ I was scared,” Band says.
He went to work, learning all the components of the dialysis machine. Within 10 days, he had the outbreak solved and identified a new organism in the process. The problem stemmed from a cross-connection in the machine that prevented sterilization chemicals from reaching parts of the apparatus. The organism causing infection was slow growing, so investigators had not found it when they cultured the machine previously.
“After five days, the cultures were all negative and they discarded the plates. I had them keep it longer and, on day six, seven or eight, things started to grow,” Band says.
The companies that manufactured the machines modified their designs because of Band’s work, and the head of the dialysis center invited him for dinner.
This early success set the tone for Band’s career as a physician. During his tenure at the CDC, Band received awards and commendations from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for his work in identifying Toxic Shock Syndrome among women who used a certain brand of tampons.
Band also became known for his work with Legionnaires’ disease. He was able to culture the bacteria that cause the disease from samples taken from a cooling tower atop a hotel complex in Wisconsin. After solving another Legionnaires’ outbreak in New York City, then-mayor Ed Koch invited Band to breakfast at Gracie Mansion.
“I go there, and it was just Ed Koch and me,” Band says. “He rolled up his sleeves and said, ‘How do you like your eggs?’”
During his three years at the CDC, Band was involved in at least 15 outbreak investigations, which set the record.
“The average epidemic intelligence service officer probably was involved in four or five. My wife always thought, ‘Geez, you’re being asked to do this?’ It was a number of years before she learned I had been volunteering, and she wasn’t very happy,” Band says.
“My whole philosophy is if you don’t look, you won’t find.”
— Dr. Jeffrey Band
Moving To WSU
Band and his wife, Meredith Weston-Band, packed up their two kids, Joshua and Marissa, and moved to Royal Oak in 1981. He joined the faculty at Wayne State University’s medical school. Two years later, he was hired at Beaumont Hospital as an infectious disease physician.
Dr. Carl Lauter headed Beaumont’s medical department and was chief of medicine when Band was hired.
“He was in charge of the adult division of infectious disease. He was also in charge of hospital epidemiology at Beaumont for almost the entire time he was here from the mid-’80s until his retirement,” Lauter says.
Lauter recognized Band as a great talent and an asset to the hospital.
“He’s an extremely hardworking person and very industrious, very intellectually motivated. He’s got an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the field of infectious disease and hospital infections and hospital epidemiology,” Lauter says.
Band received further recognition while at Beaumont for solving an outbreak of pseudomonas in late 2011. The affected patients had undergone cardiovascular surgery, specifically heart valve replacement, in one of the hospital’s intensive care units. Nothing turned up after scrutinizing the surgical equipment, so Band and his team looked at the ultrasound gel used with an echocardiogram that entered through patients’ esophagi. The team found the gel to be contaminated with the same strain of pseudomonas they were finding in patients.
“We implemented at Beaumont a very aggressive, intense surveillance system. We did much more than what is required by the joint commission or any other government agency,” Band says. “My whole philosophy is if you don’t look, you won’t find.”
Band, 70, began his semi-retirement in 2016. He still teaches, sees some patients, writes papers and edits textbooks — and he still has attending privileges at Beaumont.
Band and his wife are very active members of Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, where they were married in 1973. He has given talks about medical issues for a Sunday morning speaker series there and looks forward to being more engaged with his newfound free time.
He is also an associate member of Hadassah and has been active with the JCC’s Jewish Book Fair. Over the years, he has developed one of the largest travel clinics in the U.S., and he gives talks about what vaccines travelers to Israel should receive and how to stay healthy abroad.
The physician’s faith guides his work. He says dedicating himself to caring for others, helping and giving back are all products of his Judaism.
“My goal has always been twofold. One is obviously to do the best I possibly can and work on the patient’s behalf around the clock. But I still haven’t accomplished what I need to do if I haven’t left that room without bringing either a smile to the patient or the patient’s family,” says Band, who estimates he has seen more than 85,000 patients during his career.
Robert Kass has been Band’s friend and attorney for more than 50 years. Kass says Band is unswerving in his service to those under his care.
“He has a strong personal commitment to always placing the patient’s interest first and was never willing to sacrifice quality or patient safety,” Kass says. “I would consider him a medical super-sleuth.”
Band is something of a world traveler, both in his private and professional life. Outbreak investigations have taken him as far afield as Mali and Burkina Faso. He says there is no place he would not travel to help the sick.
Traveling for pleasure has become a top priority since Band’s partial retirement. He and Meredith spent three weeks in June in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
“It was the first time since 1973 I was able to take more than one week off at a time,” Band says. “On three trips over the years I went on with my wife and our kids, I was called back because of an outbreak. So, I always had to have my phone connected. I never really was free.”
As soon as they returned stateside, the couple booked an excursion to Tanzania and Kenya. A trip to Japan is also on the docket.
While Band is enjoying the extra time he has for traveling, exercising and catching up with friends, he doesn’t plan to hang up his doctor’s coat any time soon.
“I just love what I do and that’s why I don’t think I’ll ever stop completely.”