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Slcie-editSLICE OF RYE: Isaac Kligman’s Gift of Life
By virtue of his profession, Isaac Kligman makes people’s dreams come true. The countless testimonials and the abundant number of picture Christmas cards he receives every year attest to the impact he has as a fertility specialist.

By Janice Llanes Fabry


slciceBy virtue of his profession, Isaac Kligman makes people’s dreams come true. The countless testimonials and the abundant number of picture Christmas cards he receives every year attest to the impact he has as a fertility specialist.


An Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine at The Ronald O. Perelman and Claudia Cohen Center for Reproductive Medicine (CRM) within Weill Cornell Medical College at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Kligman had aspirations of working in reproductive endocrinology as a young medical student in Bogota, Colombia.


“I have always been drawn to the process of understanding how life is created,” noted Kligman. “My patients are healthy, vital people who have a condition that is out of their control. It’s very gratifying to help people who have difficulty achieving a pregnancy and having children, which is so fundamental.”


His journey from South America to the world-renowned CRM, responsible for the births of over 18,000 babies using IVF since 1989, proved to be long and arduous. Upon graduating from medical school at 22, Kligman took a requisite “rural year” that requires all graduates to work in an underserved community. He was assigned to Cachira, an impoverished remote municipality in North Santander, Colombia.


“It was a violent town with a population of about 5,000 and the three most important people were the priest, the mayor, and the doctor,” recalled Kligman. “It was my calling and I had a job to do. It also turned out to be one of the most rewarding times of my life.”


He worked in a six-bed hospital, which also housed his living quarters. With meager provisions and equipment he brought with him, the young doctor managed to deliver babies, perform tubal ligations, treat chronic diarrhea, and scores of other conditions and diseases. Patients would bring him eggs, poultry, pigs, and fruit in gratitude. In addition, twice a month, he traveled to the mountaintop to treat patients there.


“Having fallen off a horse and broken my arm when I was 13, I never got back on the saddle, so I would ride a donkey up the mountain,” he confessed. After completing the year, he was offered a residency in a hospital in Bogota. Soon after, he became an Attending Physician and ran his own private practice.


In the meantime, he discovered an exchange program offered through the Rockefeller Foundation that allowed him to spend two years at the University of Pennsylvania researching reproductive biology and endocrinology.


“I could not turn down an opportunity to do research. No matter where you’re from, you always want to acquire training in the United States. The American health system and scientific community are the best in the world,” he remarked.


While he was deep into research at the University of Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1989, he met his wife Jayne, who is from Venezuela. “I drove to New York City in a 1975 Pontiac Grand Le Mans with 100,000 miles to meet her. It was love at first sight,” he said. “I would bring her to my lab to show her the mice I was using for my research.”

 

“I wouldn’t have been able to practice medicine with the level of sophistication that I have here. That said, I am also very grateful to Colombia, so it’s an honor to give back.”

 


Years later, the longtime Rye residents moved their daughter Stefanie into a freshman dorm on the same campus next door to that very lab. “It was very emotional,” he admitted. “One day, I was an immigrant here and the next I was bringing my daughter, who’s a pre-med student.”


The Kligmans’ older son Jonathan is a senior at Cornell University, where his father ended up securing a fertility fellowship years later.


Not to get ahead, however, after his stint in Philadelphia, Kligman needed further training in order to be able to practice in the United States. His prior training, residency, and extensive work history notwithstanding, an additional residency was required in order to earn a U.S. medical license.


“I was concerned about the political climate in Colombia at the time and chose to stay in the United States. I knew that as a foreign medical graduate my chances of getting into a program were slim, so I sent applications to 150 hospitals,” recalled Kligman, who was accepted into the University of Maryland. After completing his second four-year obstetrics and gynecology residency, he went on to Cornell in 1993 for yet another fellowship under the direction of CRM Physician-in-Chief Zev Rosenwaks, a pioneer in assisted reproductive technology.


“I would do it all again,” noted Kligman. “I wouldn’t have been able to practice medicine with the level of sophistication that I have here. That said, I am also very grateful to Colombia, so it’s an honor to give back.” He regularly makes presentations on research and treatment in reproductive medicine in his homeland, as well as throughout Central and South America, Europe, and Asia.


The Associate Professor also teaches residents and fellows, and conducts weekly infertility lectures for medical students. At CRM, he has been helping couples with fertility issues for 21 years now, employing a number of techniques, including in-vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), and surgical modalities. He also assists women who are looking to freeze their eggs, a technique that has been perfected in recent years.


Having a deep-seated respect for his female patients, Kligman observed, “Women have an inner strength, are more compliant about following doctor’s orders, and are better patients.”


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