ST. PETERSBURG — Physician Jeffrey Nadler lived out some of the loftiest ideals of his baby-boomer generation, particularly the encouragement to live adventurously. He treated climbers on Mount Everest and sailors racing around the world. He backpacked along the Amazon in Brazil, and hacked his way through the jungles of Peru on a mapmaking expedition.
He treated AIDS patients in India, Brazil, Russia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, and taught the National Institutes of Health about preventing the disease in those countries.
During 19 years as a professor at the University of South Florida's College of Medicine, he served as director of research in the Division of Infectious Disease, and oversaw the development of 20 antiviral drugs now routinely considered part of an HIV patient's treatment, the university said. He guided dozens of physicians at Tampa General Hospital, the James A. Haley VA Medical Center and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center.
Dr. Nadler was among the researchers who persuaded the Food and Drug Administration to change the way it approaches clinical trials, colleagues say, making it easier for AIDS patients to get experimental drugs that showed promise.
He cemented a legacy as an international healer before succumbing to a terminal neurological disease. From 2007 until recently, he served as acting director of the therapeutics research program in the division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md.
Dr. Nadler, whose ascent paralleled that of the AIDS virus he helped to control, died Friday of a type of spinocerebellar ataxia, a group of inherited diseases that affect the brain and spinal cord. He was 60.
"He was highly regarded, both in his work prior and then after coming to the NIH," said Carl Dieffenbach, who directs the Division of AIDS. "One of the things about Jeff is that he was about the most decent person you could ever meet in your life. He had a compassion for patients and an overall demeanor that is something he brought to the job every day. He never lost sight of why we did what we did and who we were trying to help."
As early as 1980, while teaching at the State University of New York and working at the VA Medical Center in Brooklyn, Dr. Nadler began documenting the opportunistic infections and symptoms that came to be recognized as symptoms of HIV infection.
Other researchers gave the cluster a name: Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. By 1982, the Centers for Disease Control had coined the term "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome."
In 1987, a lurching subway train led to a more personal turning point for Dr. Nadler, by knocking Constance Price off her feet.
"I literally fell in his lap," said Price, who went on to marry Dr. Nadler in 1989. The couple moved to St. Petersburg, where Dr. Nadler began a nearly 20-year career at the University of South Florida's medical school and also served as chief of infectious diseases at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines.
Dr. Nadler traveled frequently to India and Brazil, where he refused five-star hotel accommodations, asking instead for a spare tent or a bunk at the AIDS clinic.
He called it an "anti-colonial" approach, and it worked.
"He was certainly recognized as someone who bridged really important areas, first and foremost as a clinician who was seeing a lot of patients," said Dr. David Katzenstein, an AIDS researcher at Stanford University.
He also helped shape the strategy — including which questions to ask — for the United States President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, begun in 2004 under President George W. Bush.
"Which is better, A or B?" said Dieffenbach. "How should we adjust our processes? How frequently should we test? A lot of it was not standardized. He played a major role in helping to guide the questions and decisionmaking in a really behind-the-scenes way."
Dr. Nadler also set up training programs at USF that drew doctors from all over India to USF. His influence in Brazil contributed to a new law granting treatment to all residents infected with HIV, regardless of their ability to pay.
"This policy has been held up as a model for governmental action, and has certainly kept Brazil, which had a reasonable infrastructure for the delivery of public health services, from becoming another South Africa," said Price, 53.
Along the way, Dr. Nadler tried to change attitudes about the disease. "He tried to help people understand that it's just a virus," Price said. "It's not retribution for a lifestyle."
Jeffrey Philip Nadler was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. As a child, he loved books and music, particularly live jazz.
He was a college radical who protested against the Vietnam War and hurled a few teargas canisters back at the National Guard, his wife said. He earned a bachelor's degree from SUNY at Buffalo and an M.D. from New York Medical College.
He navigated the darkness he saw with black humor. "No matter how bad things were, he would say, 'Well, at least it's this,' or, 'At least it's not that,' " his wife said. "In the end, he really was an unsinkable optimist."
Dr. Nadler learned that his illness was irreversible in 2009. The news cut short his and Price's plans to spend more time in Brazil, where they had designed a home. Instead, he waited for family and friends to arrive, then declined rapidly. He died under hospice care at his home in St. Petersburg.
"We were all hoping he would have a couple of good years left," Dieffenbach said. "When I think about it, I shudder at how quickly he died from this disease."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.