In Memoriam: Dr. Valerie Whiteman-White
USF Health perinatologist Valerie Whiteman-White, MD, who built a distinguished academic career in maternal-fetal medicine and was known for her strong work ethic, indomitable spirit and devotion to family and faith, died April 2 after a long, courageous battle with cancer. She was 55.
Dr. Whiteman had recently been promoted to professor in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology – an accomplishment she worked tirelessly to achieve, even using the time she spent undergoing chemotherapy to write journal articles. The latest of her papers, finding evidence that intrauterine tobacco exposure impacts fetal brain programming, was just published this January in the Journal of Perinatal Medicine.
“Dr. Whiteman had a passion for and excelled at helping women with high-risk pregnancies bring healthy babies to the world. We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague whose career was cut short, but whose exemplary life will not be forgotten,” said Charles J. Lockwood, MD, senior vice president for USF Health and dean of the Morsani College of Medicine.
Catherine Lynch, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and associate vice president for Faculty Development and Women’s Health at USF Health, spent a lot of time with Dr. Whiteman while her colleague and friend was in hospice care. Knowing that Dr. Whiteman’s 17-year-old daughter Talia will graduate from Tampa Preparatory School in May, Dr. Lynch arranged for teachers and classmates to bring a pre-commencement celebration for Talia to Dr. Whiteman’s bedside.
“Val truly loved what she did and thrived on difficult cases, especially complex obstetric cases,” Dr. Lynch said. “But at the end of the day, what was most important to her was her daughter Talia. Val was a true ‘volleyball mom,’ spending weekends at tournaments cheering Talia on.”
Dr. Whiteman received her MD degree from the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo, NY. She completed a residency in obstetrics and gynecology at SUNY Health Science Center of Brooklyn, NY, and a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago.
She joined USF’s medical school in 2008 from Temple University School of Medicine, where she was an assistant professor of obstetrics and attending perinatologist at Temple University Hospital.
At USF, Dr. Whiteman stepped up to become interim director of the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine when the previous director left, and served as full division director from 2013 until a recurrence of cancer. She was a member of the university’s Medical Student Selection Committee.
Jerome Yankowitz, MD, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said that Dr. Whiteman was a driving force behind restarting the USF Maternal Fetal Medicine fellowship program, which flourished under her direction and received board approval on its first attempt.
“Dr. Whiteman truly kept the Maternal Fetal Medicine Division going while we were recruiting,” Dr. Yankowitz said. “And, she managed to beautifully balance being an incredibly hard working faculty member with always being there for her daughter. She was a loving, attentive and supportive mother.”
Specializing in high-risk pregnancies, Dr. Whiteman worked out of Tampa General Hospital, where she was a key member of multidisciplinary teams involved in some of the hospital’s most complicated deliveries. In 2009, Dr. Whiteman was lead obstetrician for TGH’s first ex utero intrapartum treatment, known as EXIT, which she had performed twice previously before coming to Tampa. In 2012, she enlisted the help of urogynecologist Dr. Lennox Hoyte to perform TGH’s first-robot assisted abdominal cervical cerlage surgery, an unusual procedure that allowed a mother to deliver another daughter.
“Dr. Whiteman embraced tough clinical and surgical cases. A number of women have credited her with helping them have their first successful pregnancy outcome. One patient even gave her daughter the name ‘Valerie’ out of gratitude,” said Judette Louis, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology.
“She was dedicated to academic medicine and education, and as a leader she was selfless and always fair. We miss her dearly.”
While she maintained a professional demeanor, colleagues also remember Dr. Whiteman as someone with a wry sense of humor, a stylish dresser (she operated for hours wearing high heels), and a dog lover. She traveled whenever time permitted to countries such as Grenada, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Australia.
Anna Parsons, MD, professor emeritus in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said Dr. Whiteman came from a family of “very strong, very smart” women. “I’ve never seen anyone with such resilience,” Dr. Parsons said. “Even her cancer doctor told her ‘I’ve seen you bounce back so many times.’”
That is why her death, even after a long battle with cancer, still seems sudden, Dr. Parsons said.
“Dr. Whiteman had such a strong will to live, and I think her faith helped her through a lot of adversity… She was fundamentally a private person, and some people did not even realize what she was going through. She kept up her spirits and everyone else’s to the end.”
Dr. Whiteman is predeceased by her parents; and husband, William “Skip” White. She is survived by daughter, Talia White; fiancé, Simplice Essou; brothers, Leopold “Lee” Whiteman, Jr., and Esmond Modeste; and many other close relatives, friends and co-workers.
A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 8, at Ray Williams Funeral Home, 301 N. Howard Ave., Tampa, FL 33606. Contributions in Dr. Whiteman’s honor can be made to the March of Dimes.