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‘Pioneer’ anesthesiologist Rebecca Twersky dies at 67

“If you’ve ever thought that being an Orthodox Jew could hold you back in some way, please learn more about Dr. Rebecca Twersky,” Alex Abel wrote on “Jew in the City.”

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Josie Robertson Surgery Center in New York. Source: Google Street View screenshot.
The Memorial Sloan Kettering Josie Robertson Surgery Center in New York. Source: Google Street View screenshot.

Dr. Rebecca Twersky, former chief of anesthesia at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Josie Robertson Surgery Center, died in mid-May at 67.

“In addition to her many professional accomplishments, Dr. Twersky was well known for her devotion to her family and friends and her deep religious faith,” the ASA Monitor, of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, published on May 18.

Twersky led development of the ambulatory (outpatient) anesthesia field. “She played an enormous role in the genesis of the ambulatory surgery unit at Long Island College Hospital, widely recognized as a model for other such units,” per the ASA. “She also served as the department’s vice chair for research, serving as a mentor and guide to residents and faculty alike.”

“There was no ambulatory anesthesia expert until she came along. She was a pioneer,” said Dr. Kara Barnett, a mentee of Twerksy’s, as quoted in a July 6 article by Alex Abel, editor-in-chief of Jew in the City.

Twersky—who was also known as Shani Schreiber—came from a large Chassidic family. She would wait on Fridays until her last patient was discharged, even if it meant walking home for three hours since Shabbat had already begun, Abel wrote.

“She was much more than an outstanding anesthesiologist. She was a trailblazer, a role model and a friend to many,” said Dr. Shmuel Roth, during a video tribute to Twersky, which the Jewish Orthodox Women’s Medical Association hosted on June 28.

Many of the speakers, including colleagues and mentees, remembered spending Shabbat meals together at conferences. One spoke from the operating room. Another said she was like a big sister.

“She always cheered for my successes, and she helped me lick my wounds when there were disappointments,” said Dr. Beth Popp. “More importantly, she always helped me pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again.”

Dr. Babak Balakhaneh reflected on how Twersky consulted her rabbi before accepting the position at Memorial Sloan Kettering. “It was just so amazing to recognize that such an accomplished academic professor, who is one of the top anesthesiologists in the country—that Torah was so important for her,” he said.

“I don’t actually have a clear memory of when I learned that Mrs. Schreiber had a secret identity, or a dual identity, as Dr. Twersky,” said Dr. Sarah Becker, who knew the former as her friend’s mom. “At the time as a kid, I didn’t really appreciate Mrs. Schreiber was anything different.”

David Schreiber, Twersky’s husband, said that “When she put her mind to something, she always accomplished it and saw it to the end. She also did it without ever compromising her religion or standards. She was able to do things in a very natural way. That’s what was so remarkable about her,” as quoted in Jew in the City.

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