USF hires a renowned neonatologist

The move reflects the school's ambition to become a top place to treat sick babies.

By LISA GREENE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 8, 2007

TAMPA - A year ago, University of South Florida leaders promised that a multimillion gift for neonatal care and research to the school and Tampa General Hospital would draw some of the nation's top talent.

Now, USF has snagged the chief of neonatology at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, one of the nation's top hospitals.

Dr. Lewis P. Rubin, also director of the clinic's Fetal Care Center, will become chairman of neonatology at USF and hold the Pamela S. and Leslie M. Muma Endowed Chair in Neonatology. Rubin, 54, will have an annual salary of $397,000.

The Mumas' $6-million gift last year was combined with a $5-million state match and a $3-million USF investment for $14-million in neonatology funding.

The money will fund the endowed chair and help build a new neonatal unit at Tampa General as well as new research labs.

"Tampa Bay is well poised for emerging as a world-class center for biotechnology and health care," said Rubin in a telephone interview Friday. "USF has made remarkable strides in becoming a top public research university during the past decade."

Over the past few years, USF has recruited several prestigious doctors and won large federal grants in its women and children's medical programs.

That success is starting to build on itself. Rubin said the chance to work with some of USF's new top doctors was key in his decision. Those include Dr. David Keefe, leader of obstetrics and gynecology, whom Rubin worked with at Brown University, and Dr. Ruben Quintero, world famous for his innovative surgeries on fetuses in the womb.

"Many of the critical individuals and expertise are already present," Rubin said. "As a colleague once wisely told me, 'Isn't it more exciting to be part of an institution on the move?'"

Rubin said he envisions working with his new colleagues to make Tampa "one-stop shopping" for maternal and fetal care.

For example, Rubin recently treated a newborn who may suffer brain damage because of a rare disorder. Her body couldn't metabolize a common protein, which built up in her brain.

He envisions the day in the next decade when such children could be diagnosed before birth and treated in the womb, so that such damage never occurs.

Dr. Stephen Klasko, vice president of USF health, said the Muma gift was critical in showing Rubin that USF has high ambitions.

"He knows that investment was to make USF and Tampa into a top place in the country for sick babies," Klasko said.

Such a program wasn't originally on Klasko's list, but he decided USF could build the program after the Mumas came to him. The couple lost their newborn daughter three decades ago and wanted to fund better care for such babies.

More established universities might have a more rigid agenda, Klasko said. But he wants to be flexible enough to pursue unexpected opportunities. It's part of his "best athlete available" plan.

"It's one that has had us move much quicker and faster than we would have otherwise," he said. "It attracts certain people because they like that startup philosophy."

At Tampa General, Rubin will have a leadership role in the hospital's new neonatal ICU. The hospital now is designing a new, larger unit because of the Muma gift, set to open in 2009 or 2010.

"We just think he's going to be a fabulous addition to the NICU at Tampa General and to USF," said Deana Nelson, Tampa General's executive vice president and chief operating officer.