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Norman S. Coplon, MD, the pioneering founder of Satellite Healthcare Inc. and a committed husband, father, physician, professor, businessman and volunteer, passed peacefully Sunday morning, Jan. 11 at home with his family by his side, after a long illness. He was 77.
Coplon was known throughout the field of nephrology and the dialysis industry for his patient-first focus, which became the hallmark of his not-for-profit company and his innovative spirit which evoked many new industry standards.
Born in Syracuse, N.Y. on June 19, 1937 to Jack and Edith Coplon, Dr. Coplon knew from an early age that his vocation in life was to help others. He attended Syracuse University and went on to medical school at the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center, where he specialized in renal-electrolytes, the precursor to the field of nephrology.
Coplon was known even in his student days as a visionary with an unusual degree of determination; once he set his mind to something he found a way to make it happen, no matter the obstacles. Sandra “Sandy” Coplon, his wife of 53 years, learned this early on. In October 1960, Coplon spotted her at the hospital while she was with her nursing program observing him examine a patient. The next day he saw her again at the Syracuse University library. He took an opportune moment to ask her out—never mind the fact the young nursing student was accompanied by a date that evening. When her date took leave to use the restroom, Coplon swiftly made his move. The next day, day three of their adventure, he brought Sandy flowers on their first “official” date from his mother’s garden and the pair married the summer of 1961 during their school break.
Between his first and second year of residency at Syracuse, he packed his family up and took a detour to Arizona. He spent the next two years as a resident physician in the Army. Staying true to his beliefs he found himself nearly court marshaled three times, because he chose patient care over military orders.
In 1966 he moved to California with his young family, completed his residency at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, followed by a fellowship in nephrology at Stanford University School of Medicine, and was named Medical Director of Stanford’s Renal Care Unit. When he took the helm there, dialysis had been in use for about a decade and was only available at large regional hospitals. Some of Coplon’s patients traveled hours for their dialysis treatments, significantly impacting their lives and those of their families. Aided by extensive research and the support of his medical community, Coplon soon developed an innovative new delivery model he believed could provide patients not only with better access to care, but more personalized, comfortable care as well.
In 1973, the first freestanding dialysis facility in California opened in San Jose, with Coplon leading a staff of four. Initially conceived of as a satellite center of Stanford, Coplon had to call upon his friends for help and self-funded his idea as an independent entity, when the original plan didn’t develop. Coplon named his not-for-profit company Satellite Dialysis. His patients were treated in La-Z-Boy chairs he personally selected—a departure from the in-bed treatments administered at hospitals—and could now read, watch TV, and talk to fellow patients and staff while dialyzing. Dr. Coplon and his team strived to provide a home-like setting to make patients feel like part of a family. The model proved to be a success and soon other Satellite Dialysis centers opened their doors across the greater San Francisco Bay Area and Central Valley.
In 1999 Satellite Dialysis was renamed Satellite Healthcare to reflect the wide variety of services and activities being conducted, including the funding of on-site and off-site research and extensive efforts to better educate patients and the public about End Stage Renal Disease. Today, Satellite Healthcare’s staff of more than 1,500 provides care to more than 6,000 patients across more than 75 centers in six states.
Coplon’s passion for making life better for those living with kidney disease was matched only by his sense of humor. His light-hearted nature filled each room he entered and the heart of each patient he met. Coplon was an early leader in encouraging people on dialysis to do the things they’d always loved to do, including travel, family time and work. He established the first-ever dialysis center on the grounds of Yosemite National Park so visitors could readily receive dialysis during their vacations there. He arranged for trips to Hawaii and Alaska for his staff and as many as 30 patients at a time and their immediate family—filling entire chartered planes. He brought together his patients, their families, and his own family through annual company picnics and holiday celebrations.
Coplon will be remembered for his compassion, care and leadership in all facets of his A devoted husband, father, grandfather, and recent great-grandfather, he tucked his children in each night when they were young, even if it meant skipping out in the middle of his rounds and then driving back to finish his work. If that proved impossible, he was often guilty of waking his children up when he got home so that he could have some playtime.
Even when work consumed his days, he made it a point to camp, ski and garden with his family at every opportunity. His daughter, Bonnie, describes him as a gregarious man who was the life of the party and, quite literally at times, a cheerleader of life. He often brought his children to football games at Stanford, where they’d sell pom-poms to fans in the stands. After the games they’d collect the pom-poms to resell at the next game, and donate the day’s earnings to the National Kidney Foundation.
In 2000, Coplon and Satellite Healthcare established the Norman S. Coplon Grants, empowering young promising researchers to seek ways to improve kidney health. The Coplon Grants have become one of the nation’s largest private research endowments offered in the renal industry.
Coplon was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the prestigious "Martin Wagner Memorial Award" from the National Kidney Foundation in 1979—the highest honor the foundation can bestow on a lay volunteer—and the organization’s “Man of the Year” award in 1992. At Stanford University Medical Center, he served as Adjunct Clinical Professor of Medicine, was named a Distinguished Fellow, and in 2008 a chair was endowed in his honor, the Norman S. Coplon/Satellite Healthcare Professorship in Medicine in the department of Nephrology.
Coplon is survived by his wife of 53 years, Sandra; his daughter Bonnie Hirsch, son-in- law Lee Hirsch, and grandchildren Scott, Evan and Jessy of Cupertino, Calif.; his son Dovid Coplon, daughter-in-law Erika Coplon, and granddaughters Daphne and Trixie of San Francisco, Calif.; his daughter Deana Bressel, son-in-law Jonathan Bressel, grandchildren Chaim, Esther, Davora, Yaakov, Chana, Shmuel, Tsvi and Asher, and great-grandson
Nossan of Jerusalem, Israel; brother Arthur Coplon of Syracuse, New York; two nieces and a nephew, Andee, Peter, and Suzanne; a close network of cousins; his loving caregivers, Siua, Ron, Jeff, and Roy; and his devoted dog Yonkel.
A memorial service honoring Coplon’s life will be help Tuesday, Jan. 13 at 1:00 pm at Congregation Kol Emeth at 4175 Manuela Avenue in Palo Alto.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Norman S. Coplon Memorial Fund at the National Kidney Foundation.