In memoriam: Dr. Larry Klein, 86, dies of COVID-19 in the same hospital where he spent much of his career
Dr. Larry Klein delivered 5,000 babies, mostly at Hoag Hospital, over a 40-year career. In the same hospital, on July 17, he died of COVID-19.
Lawrence Erwin Klein, 86, was fit, sharp and proudly independent, his daughters said. Though he gave up driving about two years ago, the widower called on Lyft to get him around and he did all his own shopping and much of his own cooking. But the retired obstetrician and gynecologist was a voracious reader who understood the medical significance of the novel coronavirus. He also had a well-managed heart condition. He took the emerging crisis seriously, and agreed to self-isolate inside his Newport Coast home in early March, even before Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the statewide shutdown.
Friends delivered his groceries. He took walks near his condominium. He set, and met, a goal of going back out into public on June 15.
“He was not reckless,” said his youngest of four children, Keri Bernstein, from her New York home. “He wore a mask.” She said they will never know how he got the virus.
He went shopping and ate on a restaurant patio. He received a few visitors. But by June 26 he was showing signs of illness, and on July 5, a Sunday, he was admitted to Hoag at the urging of a close friend and colleague, Dr. Joe Riggio.
Bernstein said her father’s health improved at first. He received Remdesivir, and his care team was considering physical therapy. But that Thursday, his health declined sharply. It was a cytokine storm, and it battered his body with inflammation and pneumonia.
His doctors determined that the virus had damaged his body so much that even if he recovered, he would never be the same. As Klein had made clear in advanced directives — and verbally upon his final hospital admission — he did not want any extraordinary lifesaving measures or diminished quality of life. His family agreed to palliative care.
He was on hospice for two hours and 45 minutes, said Stacy Klein Yeany, another daughter.
Because Hoag still allows visitors in the hospice ward, Yeany came up from her home in the San Diego area and sat with him as he passed. Other family members said their goodbyes over FaceTime. His death was unexpected but peaceful. He was a week shy of his 87th birthday.
“He could have been around for another 10 years,” said Yeany, 61. “He got robbed, no question about it. We would have loved to have him around for another decade and he probably had it in him, genetically. But he didn’t get it.”
But Yeany said it gives her some comfort that her father didn’t linger in a precarious state.
Yeany said her father’s gift for listening made him a great doctor. His ear-to-ear grin and distinct Texas twang helped.
Klein was born July 24, 1933, and grew up in a hardscrabble Jewish neighborhood in south Dallas. He played football at the University of Texas-Austin and became a gym teacher and physical therapist upon graduation. Physical therapy led to an interest in medicine, and he enrolled at UT-Southwestern Medical School.
Klein was working at Parkland Memorial Hospital on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot. The medical student was one of the first to see the mortally wounded president.
In 1965, Dr. Klein graduated at the top of his class, and he then served as a naval officer in Long Beach. The young family stayed in Southern California after that, settling in Newport Beach in 1969. In his later years, he shifted to the gynecological needs of menopausal and older women. He retired in 2004 with a huge send-off at the Jewish Community Center in Irvine, where patients and friends started lining up before the party started.
Bernstein said patients glowed about their special bond with Klein, who delivered generations of Newport natives and plenty of full sibling sets.
His retirement party guests included patients from all stages of his career. One recalled that she was being wheeled out of Hoag in the mid-1970s when she saw Klein pull up frantically and run into the building, calling out that he had a baby coming.
The woman, knowing the Kleins, remarked that she thought the family was complete. Her nurse said it was a patient, not his wife.
“The woman said, ‘Does he get that way with every delivery?’” Bernstein recalled. “And the nurse looked at her and said, ‘Yes. With every delivery, he gets that excited.’”
One of his few tragic births involved a young mother whose baby died shortly after she was born from a congenital defect. Klein was crushed, Yeany said.
More than 40 years later, Yeany was out to dinner with her dad in Palm Springs when the world got very small and placed that mother at the next table. She recognized him immediately, and they had an emotional reunion.
Bernstein, 50, said you could take her father anywhere. He made fast friends at the gym in her Manhattan apartment building when he visited. Last year, he joined his youngest granddaughter on the circuit of her friends’ bat mitzvahs and posed in photo booths with funny hats. He was “Poppy.”
Bernstein agreed that her father died before his time. She had hoped to temporarily move back to Orange County with her daughter, now 14, and her son, 17, this fall and rent a home nearby to keep him company.
Klein loved tennis, skiing, crossword puzzles, hollering at the Longhorns and Cowboys on TV, listening to Johnny Cash, reading biographies, telling naughty jokes, tucking into a juicy T-bone steak, and sipping a fine pinot grigio or espresso. Yeany said her father was loving and patient, and people quickly read his positive energy.
“My dad just loved people, and people loved my dad,” she said.
Klein was preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Carla Jean Langert. He is survived by his children: Yeany, Bernstein and her husband Ron, Glenna Klein, and Scott Klein, and six grandchildren.
The family is planning a virtual memorial service. Klein has been cremated, and his daughters will share his ashes.
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