On Jan. 20, Ogdensburg lost a well-loved doctor and its only gastroenterologist.
Dr. Ben Handelsman, 65, served thousands of patients with digestive system diseases and disorders since he first built his office at the St. Lawrence Heath Alliance, 3 Lyon Place, in 1989.
He was the kind of doctor who came to work at 7 a.m. and didnt leave until 10 or 11 p.m. some nights, colleagues said. His dedication did not waver even after he became ill with myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, over four years ago.
He would take phone call after phone call on the weekend, Danielle L. LaFave, office manager, said. Even when he was out of town. Even when he was sick and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, for treatment, he would take calls.
Colleague and surgical specialist Dr. V. Prasad Yitta said he worked with Dr. Handlesman on many cases, from day one to the last day, and was impressed with Dr. Handelsman on many occasions.
He had very dry sense of humor, but at the same time he was very compassionate and dedicated, Dr. Yitta said. We did a lot of cases together and we had a very mutual, professional relationship.
As part of one of his cancer treatments, Dr. Yitta eventually performed surgery on Dr. Handelsman.
Some patients take six weeks to recuperate after that kind of procedure, Dr. Yitta said. He was in the office earlier than I was the next day. That shows how dedicated he is.
Dr. Handelsman grew up in Queens, and his family later moved to New Hyde Park. He graduated from Great Neck High School in 1965, the University of Rochester in 1970 and earned his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1974. He interned at Los Angeles County Hospital in California and completed his residency in gastroenterology at Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. After a short time in Michigan, he moved to Ogdensburg.
He grew to love Ogdensburg and the north country through his close relationship with his patients.
Dr. Handelsman was looking for an area that needed a gastroenterologist. He kind of filled that need, Susan M. Dirks, former office manager, said. He made it his mission to get to know and take care of the community in that area.
He would often receive cards and letters of thanks, Ms. LaFave said. Every day she worked with him, Ms. LaFave said, she found something new to admire in Dr. Handelsman.
Many of his patients would come out from the room and say Wow, hes a great doctor and very understanding, she said. He was 100 percent all the time. He said he felt it was an honor to take care of people.
After four years of chemotherapy, Dr. Handelsman announced in April he would retire and close his office. The office officially closed July 31.
I think the day that he announced his retirement was pretty tough on him, Ms. LaFave said. For everyone, but it was very hard for him to say it was time. His illness was taking him away from what he wanted to do, and he felt he couldnt be 100 percent. He said that was not fair to this patients, so he gracefully bowed out.
The office received many calls from patients who expressed their sadness for Dr. Handelsmans departure, Ms. LaFave said.
His patients adored him and thought the world of him, she said. He just wanted the best for his patients. He lived to take care of people. Thats pretty much what he set out for in his life. He was a doctor 24-7.
Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center will hold a private remembrance service for Dr. Handelsman Thursday.