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May 2, 2013

Obituary: Autumn Marie Klein



After press time, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police homicide unit announced an investigation of Autumn Klein’s death, following a determination by the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office that she had “toxic levels” of cyanide in her body at the time of her death.

Autumn Marie Klein, assistant professor of neurology in the School of Medicine, died April 20, 2013, at age 41.

The medical examiner’s office said results of an autopsy are pending.

Born in Baltimore, she joined the University on July 1, 2011, receiving a secondary appointment as assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences in the School of Medicine.

She earned her BA in neuroscience and women’s studies from Amherst College in 1993 and her MD and PhD in neuroscience from Boston University School of Medicine in 2001.

She did her internship at Brown University in internal medicine (2001-02) and her neurology residency at Brigham & Women’s Hospital/Massachusetts General Hospital (2002-05), becoming chief resident (2004-05) and receiving a fellowship in neurophysiology/epilepsy (2005-07).

Klein received a clinical fellowship in neurology at Harvard Medical School (2002-05) and became an instructor there for two years beginning in 2007. She received the Excellence on Teaching Neuroanatomy Award from Harvard Medical School in 2004.

Her fellow neurology faculty member in the Epilepsy Division, Gena Ghearing, first met Klein when they were both medical students applying for the same neurology residencies and chosen to have posters next to each other at national meetings. When Klein joined Pitt, they worked together in the EEG laboratories at UPMC Presbyterian and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC and in the epilepsy clinic.

“Working with Dr. Klein was wonderful,” says Ghearing. With clinical clients “she was unbelievably patient and thorough. She had a way of making everybody comfortable. Whenever I filled in for her I knew I had very big shoes to fill.”

Klein specialized in women’s issues in neurology and treated the most complex patients who often had multiple problems during a pregnancy.

“She was one of the most talented neurologists — she was really an expert in so many fields.

“She was one of those colleagues who would not just say, ‘Do you need some help?’” Ghearing adds. “She was always there with specific ways of helping. She was just one of the most effective people. She was so talented that she could help in ways you’ve never even thought of.”

Another faculty colleague in neurology, Maria Baldwin, arrived at Pitt at the same time as Klein.

“She had this unbelievable enthusiasm for her work,” Baldwin says. “It made others want to work with her, and it made people excited about their work. Honestly, it made other people want to work harder.”

Baldwin points to Klein’s tremendous achievements in a short time, including establishing the women’s neurology clinic, becoming chief of women’s neurology at UPMC and developing her specialty of handling pregnant and post-partum women who needed neurological care. She also delivered a large number of lectures around the country.

“She had such compassion for her patients and such rapport with them,” Baldwin says. “She had an eye for minute details in taking care of them. Her patients just adored her and had great faith and trust in her care.

“She was a wonderful friend to many people and mentor to the residents,” Baldwin adds. “Of all of her roles —being a clinician, academic, teacher, researcher — the role she cherished the most was being a mother.”

Klein was the co-author of more than 125 publications, most recently in such journals as Global Change Biology, Science, Current Opinion in Cell Biology, Oecologia and Proceedings of the Royal Society-Biological Sciences.

She was a member of the American Academy of Neurology, the American Epilepsy Society and the American Headache Society.

She is survived by husband Robert J. Ferrante; daughter Cianna; stepdaughter Kimberly; stepson Michael, and parents Lois and William Klein.

Contributions to the Autumn Klein Fellowship in Epilepsy can be sent to the Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, Attn: Amy Lombard, 3600 Forbes Ave., Suite 8084, Pittsburgh 15213.

—Marty Levine

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