Story by Sara Paul
With a lifetime of experiences “on both sides of the white coat,” Gerard Freisinger lives humbly, recalls quietly, and comforts always.
To be sure, the retired doctor’s license plate frame displays the principle precepts of bioethics, “Primun non nocere,” in Latin, translated “First do no harm.”
A Warwick doctor of internal medicine and cardiology from 1973 to 2012, Dr. Freisinger was an attending physician at St. Anthony Community Hospital and Arden Hill Hospital, and also maintained a private practice on Oakland Ave. in the Village of Warwick.
“I love the Queen Village. It’s like an old New England town. How many places still have an active Main Street? Not a lot,” he commented.
With doctor’s blood in his veins, Gerry admits that as a young man, his interests lie more in cars than cardiology. His dad, Helmut, was a physician and, naturally, wanted his son to follow in his medical footsteps.
“My father wanted me to be a doctor, so I gave it a shot. Honestly, I just enjoyed driving him to house calls. We had an old Chevy, the phone would ring at 2 a.m., and for me it was just any excuse to drive,” he said.
Gerard Martin Freisinger was born in Vienna, Austria in April of 1938, at a precarious time in history when Austria had joined forces with Germany. His father traveled to America alone when Gerry was six months old and subsequently brought Gerry and his mother to the States a year later through Catholic Charities.
The family settled in Jamaica, Queens, NY, while his father repeated some of his European medical training, and then secured a job at the State School for Boys in Warwick. The Freisingers lived on the school grounds for a year in 1942, before Helmut opened his own general practice in Warwick in 1943 and soon after purchased a home in the Village of Warwick. Gerry’s mother Erna was a well-known local artist who studied with John Gould at his Bethlehem Studio.
Attended Schools in Warwick
Gerry attended pre-kindergarten at Houston Farms (now Longhouse Farm) in Bellvale; kindergarten through sixth grade at Hamilton Avenue; and then four years of middle and high school at Park Avenue, where he played football and also the clarinet in the Warwick High School Band. He fondly remembers growing up in Warwick when he worked with horses, gave pony rides to kids at the Warwick Drive-In Theater (back when there was just one screen), and was a junior sportsman (today, a Little League player).
The well-educated teen completed his high school career at Phillips Academy, a preparatory school in Andover, MA, where he roomed with the future Commissioner of Baseball, the late Bartlett Giamatti. Though he enjoyed positive experiences at both Phillips and Park Avenue, Gerry kept close ties with his Warwick classmates. In 2006, he attended his 50th Class of 1956 high school reunion, with one day of festivities celebrated at his own home.
Undergraduate college years from 1956 to 1960 found Gerry at Cornell University, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree, participated in the Air Force ROTC, the Pershing Rifles, college wrestling, and joined a fraternity. As Harvard Medical School placed the would-be doc on its waiting list, Gerry returned to the city of his birth, and attended the University of Vienna College of Medicine for a mere $160 a year.
Gerry received post graduate school training at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, MA. and also trained and served as a physician in the US Navy for four years in the Vietnam era. He served at St. Albans in Queens, NY and also the naval hospital in San Diego, returning to Warwick in 1973.
Performed CPR on John Lennon
Career highlights include joining the faculty of Westchester Medical Center in 1973, and a one-year cardiac fellowship at Roosevelt Hospital in NYC in 1980. It was at Roosevelt Hospital on December 8, 1980 that the young cardiology fellow performed CPR on John Lennon after the Beatles member was shot.
Though little could be done to “imagine” that Lennon’s precious life could be saved, Dr. Freisinger laid his gentle hands on Lennon’s lifeless chest and tried to save him. Dr. Freisinger was at the hospital with Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono when Lennon was pronounced dead, and he says sadly, for him, “That was the day the music died.”
Dr. Freisinger was also the local doctor for the head rabbi and other members of Kiryas Joel in Monroe, NY for two years.
Technological Advances in Medicine
Highly respected by his colleagues, Dr. Freisinger has been recognized for a number of firsts. He was the first doctor in Orange County (O.C.) to do stress testing; the first in O.C. to perform echo cardiography, combining both to perform stress echocardiography; the first in O.C. to practice heart monitoring, known as Holter Monitoring; and the first to administer an agent that dissolved blood, called thrombolytic therapy, an experimental procedure for heart attack victims. He was also on the NYS faculty for life support training and instruction in basic and advanced life support.
“With technological advances in medicine, so much has changed. People used to have exploratory surgery to see what procedures they might need, but now with CT scans, ultrasounds and MRIs, doctors know what they’re looking for,” noted Dr. Freisinger.
He follows the thoughts of Dr. Eric Topol, commenting that, “Machines can be programmed with algorithms to diagnose and treat patients with less errors, leaving physicians to be recruited for compassion rather than brainiacs and combine superb technology with a doctor-patient relationship as it was 40 years ago.”
These days, Gerry is retired, though far from relaxed. With his wife Peggy, the couple dutifully tends to yard work, 10 grandchildren around the United States, and three-year old Bex, a 125-pound Bernese Mountain dog, named after a town near the Bernese Mountains in Switzerland. Gerry and Peggy also enjoy traveling to Europe, the US west coast, and Canada. Gerry still follows the Cornell wrestling team and attends matches anytime he can.
Gerry and Peggy are members of the Warwick Historical Society, having both conducted tours at the Hasbrook Barn and other historical buildings in town.
Gerry was also active in the Jockey Hollow Pony Club with his daughters, Patti and Suzy, building cross country jumps. Sadly, Patti passed away in 2017 from complications due to cancer. Suzy lives in Portland, OR, holds a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing, teaches and writes fiction for young adult books and has several books in publication.
With a lifetime full of achievement and a heart full of commitment, Dr. Freisinger confides, “It’s a privilege to be able to have access to the most intimate problems people have, to see them at their worst and to be able to help them come through it.”