Today is the birthday of our co-founder Dr. Stephen A. Berger, and the perfect time to share his personal story and the history behind the creation of GIDEON.
Steve has been the “beating heart” of the company’s medical knowledge and insight since its inception. GIDEON could not be what it is today and will be tomorrow, without him. Join us on Memory Lane as we celebrate Dr. Berger’s contribution to the medical community.
A TALENTED YOUNG DOCTOR
Steve was brought up in New York and was destined to become either a lawyer or a doctor. Thankfully for us, he fell in love with the latter field. Dr. Berger graduated with a medical degree from the New York Medical College in 1967 and completed his Internal Medicine training there as the youngest in his group, finishing at the top of his class too!
After this, the Vietnam war erupted, and along with many junior doctors, Steve was conscripted into the US Navy. Despite not being well-traveled at the time, he took this in his stride and developed an interest in Infectious Diseases – something that set him apart from his peers back in New York.
He was assigned to the Sixth Fleet, stationed in the Mediterranean, which eventually took him to Israel. At the time, Dr. Berger explored his Jewish roots, and this is where he eventually made his home.
After emigrating, Steve found the love of his life – an accomplished medical professional in her own right and currently Israel’s leading pediatric surgeon, as well as the first Yemenite to graduate medical school in Israel.
While in the country, the Yom Kippur war broke out (1973). This is when this second photo was taken – next to the Suez Canal…and on his birthday!
The lady who captured Dr. Berger’s heart in Israel was on her way to train in the United States, and so Steve returned to continue his education in New York.
This is where he completed Infectious Disease fellowships at Montefiore Hospital-Einstein in New York, The New York V.A. Hospital, and the Tufts-New England Medical Center. Here, he got to work with Dr. Louis Weinstein, “a leading pioneer in the new specialty of Infectious Disease”. Dr. Weinstein was Steve’s Guru and mentor and for all that followed in his career.
To supplement and expand his knowledge base, Dr. Berger went on to train in Clinical Microbiology eventually attaining Board Certification and Licensure in both Israel and the United States – in the fields of Internal Medicine, Infectious Diseases, and Clinical Microbiology.
During this period, Steve established clinical and teaching programs at the New York Medical College, and was granted the rank of Associate Professor. Dr. Berger then returned to Israel, where he established the country’s first automated Microbiology Laboratory, at the central municipal hospital in Tel Aviv; and devoted endless energy to teaching and research as Associate Professor of Medicine and Microbiology at Tel Aviv University.
In 1987, Dr. Berger was sent to Brussels for advanced training under the World Health Organization in Operational Methods. Much of this program involved drawn-out discussions of how to organize medical services in primitive environments and hands-on experience with practical statistical methods. In one such session, Steve first came aware of Bayesian analysis. Intrigued, he asked the presenter if anyone was using the method in diagnosing disease. Apparently, the tool was largely unknown in the field of Medicine!
Upon returning to Israel, Dr. Berger began running Bayesian diagnosis simulations but was forced to struggle with the limits of available computer technology. It was then he met Uri Blackman, the other half of the GIDEON team.
THE BIRTH OF GIDEON
Dr. Berger’s medical and scientific expertise – combined with Uri’s technical and business acumen – gave life to the first prototype of GIDEON. The very first hand-on test involved a “real-life” patient with typhoid fever. Much to Dr. Berger’s and Uri’s joy, GIDEON worked perfectly!
The next three years were focused on gathering as much background data as possible for the world’s most comprehensive Infectious Diseases database.
In the early days, data were gathered and added to the system manually, from “actual” books and journals. The Internet has still not been developed. The first version of GIDEON was marketed on floppy discs, mailed quarterly to subscribers (later to be replaced by Compact Discs which incorporated advanced computer programming capability). Nowadays, GIDEON is updated daily over the Internet and incorporates information from dozens of digital sources worldwide.
The GIDEON database was later reverse-engineered through a system in which databases are “turned back” into books. As of 2020, 430 e-books (120,000 single-space pages) present the entire field of Infectious Diseases, with individual titles devoted to every country and every disease. An updated edition of all books is released yearly.
A WARM RECEPTION
The medical community immediately fell in love with GIDEON. A number of medical institutions and physicians have continued to subscribe to the program from the very first launch in 1993.
Dr. Berger recalls an event when one enthusiastic Texan shouted, “Wow, this is better than sex!”’ at a medical convention, after seeing a correct diagnosis appear on the computer screen. Owing to a warm reception of the Diagnosis module, the development of a new Microbiology module soon followed. For years, an increasing base of users has signed on from all over the world – taking advantage of GIDEON’s unique knowledge base, and tools for research teaching, diagnosis, and pathogen identification.
Dr. Berger is most proud of GIDEON’s achievements when hearing from scientists and students who have used the resource to fuel new ideas or solidify tried and tested principles.
All the while, with GIDEON going from strength to strength, Steve and his wife raised three children, and now enjoy five grandchildren, while continuing to pursue their medical careers.
Dr. Berger opened the first Travel Medicine clinic in Israel and is currently Director of Geographic Medicine at the Tel Aviv Medical Center. He has published 11 standard texts and 180 professional papers (in English and Hebrew) – in addition to the hundreds of eBooks available through GIDEON.
In his spare time, Steve enjoys classical music (Schubert and Bach in particular) and science fiction (anything by Isaac Asimov). He also maintains an interactive database that catalogs the world’s largest “collection” of diseases and deaths among famous people – currently exceeding 23,000 people. Check it out at VIPatients – truly fascinating!
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