Remembering Stephen Arnon, Dedicated Public Health Physician

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(Courtesy of Arnon Family)
Dr. Stephen Soulé Arnon of Orinda, Oct. 14, 1946 – Aug. 17, 2022.

    Dr. Stephen Soulé Arnon of Orinda died peacefully in his sleep on Aug. 17 at age 75, while on a hiking trip with longtime friends in Wyoming. A brilliant scientist and pioneer in infectious disease research, he spent his entire 45-year career as head of the Infant Botulism Treatment and Prevention Program at the California Department of Public Health, now in Richmond.
    Steve was born in Oakland on Oct. 14, 1946, the third of five children. His father Daniel I. Arnon was an eminent professor in what is now the Plant & Microbial Biology Department at U.C. Berkeley and his mother was a librarian and homemaker. After finishing high school in Berkeley and Carmel, Steve’s adventurous spirit led him eastwards to Harvard, where he received his A.B. (1968), his MPH (1972) and his MD (1973).
    In 1976, Steve and his colleagues identified a rare new form of botulism, which occurs only in babies under one year of age, now called infant botulism. It’s caused when the spores of the bacterium (Clostridium botulinum) is accidentally swallowed by an infant, germinate and produce botulinum toxin in the intestine. The illness can be severe, leading to paralysis, long stays in the ICU and sometimes death.
    Steve devoted his entire career to studying all aspects of infant botulism, working with his team to create the world’s only licensed medicine for this disease, a not-for-profit drug he named BabyBIG®.
    Treatment with BabyBIG® shortens the average patient’s hospital stay by almost one month; since first introduction in 1992, in total more than a century of hospital stays have been avoided through its use. It has saved the lives of thousands of babies.
    Steve possessed an abiding love of the wilderness and the mountains and was an ardent conservationist. In the 1990s, he helped save 110 acres in Orinda, which became the Orinda Oaks Open Space Preserve.
    An avid mountaineer, he climbed all the 14,000-foot peaks in California and several in the Western United States. One ascent he was most proud of was Mount St. Elias, the second-highest peak in both Canada and the United States.
    Not every climb went without a hitch, however – he once got trapped with four others by a blizzard on New Zealand’s Mt. Cook/Aoraki. The group was forced to bivouac in an icy crevasse for a week and was rescued by helicopter.
    Steve is survived by his wife Joyce of 37 years and his children Eric and Christina. They, along with innumerable relatives, friends and medical and scientific colleagues, will miss him greatly.
    In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Nature Conservancy.

By The Arnon Family

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