Dr. Donald Rosenberg always carried a napkin or a piece of paper, filled with jokes, in his pocket.
His jokes were on point. And his initiatives at work were groundbreaking.
The former medical director of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue died at 89 earlier this month, just weeks from retirement. Loved ones remember him as a pioneer in pre-hospital emergency care who “resurrected and redefined” the protocols of how paramedics and EMTs respond and care for patients before taking them to the hospital.
He became medical director in the early 1990s, a position he held for decades. He became assistant medical director in 2015. His retirement ceremony was scheduled for March 31 and he would have turned 90 on Cinco de Mayo.
His “visionary” initiatives drew international attention from other fire rescue departments and made Miami-Dade Fire Rescue a leader in emergency medical services, said Lt. Eddy Ballester, who works in fire rescue’s EMS division of research and development and has known Rosenberg for years.
Some of the initiatives Rosenberg led through his decades of work with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue included training paramedics and EMTs on how to interpret advanced electrocardiograms and administer clot-busting drugs on patients with heart attacks, said Ballester. Rosenberg also oversaw Miami-Dade’s first public access defibrillation program, which began at the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair in the early 90s.
“If there was ever a template for an EMS medical director, Dr. Rosenberg is it,” said Ballester. “If there is an example to follow on how to care for patients and for one’s colleagues, follow Dr. Rosenberg’s work.”
Rosenberg spearheaded a county initiative to train police on how to use automated external defibrillators on patients with sudden cardiac arrest. It was the largest deployment of automated external defibrillators in police vehicles in the nation at the time and became a formula the American Heart Association copied for the rest of the country, said Yanet Hernandez, development director of the American Heart Association, who worked closely with Rosenberg.
He also implemented a stroke transport protocol to ensure every patient was sent to the closest, most appropriate hospital to get care, which at the time was controversial, she said. The key to stroke treatment is getting to a hospital quickly so a patient can be administered clot-busting drugs to significantly improve recovery.
“He was a gift to the world and was definitely a wonderful gift to the American Heart Association. His legacy lives on and always will in our organization,” said Hernandez.
Rosenberg, who had private practices in Miami Shores and later in North Miami Beach, sometimes worked odd schedules. His children remember him rushing out of the house after his beeper would go off. Sometimes, he would listen to ambulance calls at home and call the ER.
He devoted “himself to patients and to his practice, but also made sure he devoted time to his family,” said his son Dr. Steven Rosenberg.
Playing at the park. Marco polo in the pool. Family vacations in South Carolina. Golf.
Steven Rosenberg, a retired dentist, and his sister Robin Dorfman, a registered nurse, can’t help but smile as they remember all the good times they shared. Their father was athletic, and at one point in his life, the Cincinnati Reds offered him a contract to play on their farm team.
He was a “martini” type of guy who enjoyed Bombay Sapphire Gin. He and his wife Ruby Grace, a retired registered nurse, loved spoiling their grandchildren. And if he hadn’t become a doctor, he likely would have been a stand-up comedian.
Loved ones say the former chairman for the Miami chapter of the American Heart Association had two missions in life: To save lives and to make people laugh. And he did it until the very end.
“He told me many years ago that the secret for caring for patients is caring for patients,” said Ballester.
“As one of the great pioneers in pre-hospital emergency care, Dr. Rosenberg strongly advocated for paramedics and EMTs to provide more advanced care in the pre-hospital setting,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue in a Facebook post. “It’s with this vision that Dr. Rosenberg led MDFR to become a leader in advanced EMS operations, bringing cutting-edge medical technology and patient care to our community.
Dr. Rosenberg will be greatly missed, not only for his exceptional leadership and contributions to the field of emergency medicine, but also for his kind and cheerful disposition.”
His funeral was held at Beth Moshe Congregation in North Miami, where he previously helped at least two people with medical emergencies while attending services for High Holidays. (One choked, another collapsed.) Members of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue were pallbearers. He was buried with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin, signed by his loved ones.
He’s survived by family, including his wife, daughter, son and grandchildren. The family is requesting donations in memory of him to the American Heart Association.