In memoriam: Dr. Archie Silver, pioneer in child psychiatry

Archie A. Silver, MD, a Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at USF, died Wednesday, Feb. 24. He was 93.

“Not only was Dr. Silver one of the great pioneers of child psychiatry, he was a man of wonderful character and compassion absolutely committed to helping young people in need reach their full potential,” said Stephen K. Klasko, MD, MBA, CEO for USF Health and dean of the College of Medicine. “He dedicated his life to the service and research of treating children with developmental disorders such as autism, Down syndrome, Tourette’s syndrome and learning disabilities. He touched many lives during his lifetime and will be missed by all who had the honor of knowing him.”

Dr. Silver earned his medical degree from New York University College of Medicine, conducted an internship at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY, and served in the U.S. Public Health Service during World War II. Board certified in psychiatry and neurology, he came to USF in 1979 following more than 30 years at as a psychiatrist at New York University College of Medicine, Bellevue Hospital. He led the USF Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with distinction, soon winning the hearts of faculty, staff, trainees and many in the community with his warmth, keen intellect, integrity, enthusiasm, and a sense of humor that made every interaction joyful, said Francisco Fernandez, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine.

“Dr. Silver would often mention that something funny happened to him and his wife Mary Louise on their way to retiring in Tampa – and that something was USF,” Dr. Fernandez said. “We are greatly saddened by his loss… He taught all of us that strength and comfort should always be made available to our patients and their families. Even when treatments are unavailable, we can be of great help by caring and giving basic assistance and hope to all.”

Throughout his career, Dr. Silver was a passionate advocate for children in need.

In 1997, Dr. Silver founded, and co-directed with Dr. Stanley Graven, the USF Silver Child Development Center. The center of excellence was created to advance the science of brain development in infants and children and focuses on discovering new treatments for those vulnerable to mental and behavioral illnesses. Dr. Silver and Mary Louise also contributed an endowed chair in developmental neurobiology in honor of their son Robert.

“I had a special fondness for Dr. Silver’s dedication and contributions to developmental neuroscience research. Several years ago he embraced me as the Silver Chair in his son’s name,” said Jun Tan, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry who holds the Robert A. Silver Chair in Developmental Neurobiology. “As a result, we have been able to move forward to explore autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in the hopes of finding a curative, immune-based treatment, and new biomarkers for disease monitoring. The work resulting from Dr. Silver’s generosity will be a lasting legacy to field of psychiatry, and child psychiatry in particular.”

Dr. Silver’s early involvement in research on Tourette’s syndrome became part of the university’s recent drug discovery success. Dr. Silver was a member of a USF team investigating whether mecamylamine, a drug once used for high blood pressure, could help children with their tic symptoms. While the medication didn’t alleviate tics, it did help children whose Tourette’s included depression. That discovery led the USF team, including Paul R. Sanberg, PhD, DSc, and R. Douglas Shytle, PhD, to create and patent an augmentative drug for depression, which is at the center of a $1-billion pharmaceutical licensing deal.

When Dr. Silver was awarded this very first patent as a co-inventor in his 80s, the entire team shared in his excitement, said Dr. Sanberg, director of the Center for Aging and Brain Repair and Associate Vice President for Research & Innovation at USF. “Archie was the most endearing, compassionate and intelligent colleague, co-author and co-inventor anyone could ever have. I was very fortunate to have his inspiration, friendship and mentorship for 18 years. It was wonderful he was with us to learn about the latest results of his co-discovery.”

“Having worked very closely with Dr. Silver for many years, I will remember him not only as a great psychiatrist, mentor, and friend, but also as a great pediatrician, neurologist, family physician, psychologist, and scientist all rolled into one,” said Dr. Shytle, associate professor of neuroscience in the Center for Aging and Brain Repair and the Silver Child Development Center.

While passionate about scientific inquiry, Dr. Silver was the consummate clinician who considered medicine as much an art as a science, Dr. Shytle recalls. “At the end of the day, he believed every doctor should be well rounded in their education and clinical skills training, and had an aversion to intense specialization. He never compromised his principles as a physician for anyone… A colleague told me ‘his death feels like the end of an era,’ and I would have to agree.”

Above: Left to right, Mary Louise Silver, Dr. Jun Tan and Dr. Archie Silver. Dr. Tan holds the Robert A. Silver Chair in Developmental Neurobiology, which the Silvers endowed in honor of their son. Below: The Silver Child Development Center was founded in 1997 by Dr. Silver.

Dr. Silver set and met high standards and could be a stern taskmaster for those young physicians and medical students he felt were not living up to their potential. USF psychiatry residents honored him twice with distinguished teaching awards.

His young patients brought out his gentle side, and concern for their well-being was his top priority. “If there is a placebo effect, Dr. Silver was its embodiment,” said Dr. Shytle. “No matter what the treatment, children always seemed to do better when he was their doctor…. He always took time to build a rapport with them before speaking to their parents.”

Some pediatric patients remained in touch with Dr. Silver, even into adulthood. Dr. Shytle recalled Dr. Silver’s story of one girl he visited while making rounds as a clinical psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. The patient had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and likely would have remained institutionalized indefinitely. After assessing the chart and carefully examining the patient, Dr. Silver determined that the girl suffered from Sydenham’s chorea, a rare neurological condition characterized by rapid, jerky movements and often unusual psychiatric symptoms. The symptoms are caused by an autoimmune response to streptococcal infection, and most frequently occurs in children following acute rheumatic fever. “Dr. Silver put her on penicillin,” Dr. Shytle said. “That little girl recovered completely and grew up to be a clinical psychologist. She was so grateful that every year she sent him a card.”

Dr. Silver wrote extensively in his field and authored or co-authored five books over his lifetime. He was especially proud of his two editions of Disorders of Learning in Childhood, considered one of the most comprehensive resources in the field for clinicians, teachers and administrators. He received several prestigious awards, including those from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for preventive psychiatry and learning disorders.

Dr. Silver is survived by wife Mary Louise Silver and son Dr. Frederick Silver, an otolaryngological surgeon at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.

- Story by Anne DeLotto Baier, USF Health Communications