Admired MD: Pediatrician to retire after 43 years

Apr 29, 2021

After more than four decades of caring for many of Dartmouth’s youngest residents, esteemed pediatrician Dr. Mark Shapira is closing up shop.

Through the years the 74-year-old has treated thousands of patients from his independent State Road practice — often along with their children and grandchildren as well, according to longtime office manager Paula Fernandes.

“We have a lot of families that the moms or even grandparents are patients of Dr. Shapira’s,” she said. “We have very strong family ties.”

But for one Dartmouth family, Shapira really went above and beyond.

Philip Norton said that when his son Braiden was just one year old, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor — and Shapira was the only doctor in the area who agreed to sign off on an experimental gene therapy treatment.

When Braiden was accepted in a phase II trial at a clinic in Houston, he said, “we flew down to Texas against [our Massachusetts hospital]’s wishes.”

“They said I was crazy,” he added.

The family spent a month in Houston getting Braiden started on treatment, a 24-hour IV drip which he would carry in a backpack for the next four years.

But when it came time to come home to Massachusetts with all the new supplies, Norton said, no doctor would agree to monitor Braiden’s treatment and report to the Houston clinic, as required by the Food and Drug Administration.

“They had to sign on to being part of this experiment — basically be the clinic’s eyes back home,” Norton explained.

But none of the doctors he spoke to wanted to help, due to possible liability with an untested treatment.

Without a Massachusetts doctor to sign on, the Nortons would have had to stay in Texas.

“We were stuck,” Norton said, noting that he called a lot of people in a number of days. “I was very stressed out...I would have had to live at that clinic.”

Then he found Shapira.

“He agreed to be part of this trial, so it was a huge relief,” said Norton, calling him “a stellar human being.” 

“He was willing, even brave enough to do something that no one else was wanting to do — which was stick his neck out and do something different.”

“It meant a lot,” he added.

Norton said that he later found out Shapira had been his own pediatrician when he was a kid. “I had no idea,” he said with a laugh. “It’s all full circle.”

Now a teenager, Braiden is doing well and even hosting community events, like last year’s inflatable Padanaram Christmas display.

The doctor started his practice in 1978, according to Fernandes, who has worked there for nearly 25 years.

Fernandes said that he has always been “very involved with his patients.”

“We basically know all the patients by name,” she noted, adding that they consider the patients as part of the family.

Shapira would even sometimes stop in to see patients hospitalized under different doctors at St. Luke’s.

“He likes to take care of his own patients,” Fernandes explained. “As a matter of fact, I tried to get him a few times to have a nurse practitioner, but he didn’t want anyone else to see his patients!”

She noted that Shapira worked full time until recent health issues prompted his sudden retirement. “He had no plans to retire, so this was all out of the blue.”

The practice will close on May 15, Fernandes said. 

In the meantime, patients have dropped off plenty of cards for the doctor, and a few have even asked if they can see him, although he can’t accept visitors due to the pandemic.

“He’s great. Easygoing, likes to laugh, make jokes,” said Fernandes of her boss. “He is very well loved by his patients.”