When Arthur Bloom, who was raised in a working-class Boston family, graduated from Harvard, he faced a personal quandary of whether to pursue his love of writing or pursue his dream of becoming a physician.
He was accepted to Ph.D. programs at the Columbia and Harvard graduate schools of arts and sciences, as well as at the New York University School of Medicine.
“I was conflicted in college whether to study literature or medicine,” said Bloom, 84.
He chose medicine and became the first in his family to be a doctor.
New York City was a special draw for him, plus he had taken the premedical coursework as an undergraduate at Harvard in the Class of 1956.
His medical career — in which he entered the fields of pediatrics and genetics — spanned 40 years.
In his memoir, “In My DNA,” Bloom tells a global story of genetics and the environment, as well as taking the leap to return to his love of writing while living in Paris, where he studied the environmental impact on health after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Bloom, who has made Gloucester his home in his retirement, has vast knowledge in many areas, all of which show up in his book. He does not need to create drama because dramatic events seemed to be part of the fabric of his journey, which took him to diverse locations from Hiroshima to the Cayman Islands to study genetics on different realms, from hot spots from radiation to birth defects that occur from cousins marrying cousins.
These stories are revealed in his memoir, for which there will be a public launch and reading at the Rocky Neck Art Colony this Saturday. Bloom will read excerpts, followed by a conversation about the book and a discussion of the art of the memoir.
When Bloom spent a year and half in a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to write this book, drama again found him when the cabin burned to the ground during the wildfires that swept across the national forest in 2016.
“It was a wonderful place to write and perfectly tranquil,” recalled Bloom, who lost all his possessions, including cherished photographs from his years in Paris and Japan.
“So we started fresh when we came to Gloucester,” he said.
When he was growing up, his family would visit Cape Ann.
“My mother loved Rockport and Gloucester,” he recalled.
Bloom continued to visit Cape Ann whenever he had the opportunity over the years, especially when he was working for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in Medford.
“So we decided when the forest fire hit us and we were really sort of homeless, we would try to come back to Gloucester,” Bloom said. “We searched widely for a place where we feel at home, and it is Cape Ann.”
A physician’s journey
After medical school, Bloom did his residency at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, where he began to work in genetics. He later worked with the National Institutes for Health in Maryland.
“It was an exciting time in genetics, when the DNA code was being elucidated,” he said.
While in medical school, he recalled the case of a baby patient in Bellevue Hospital who had a rare genetic disease called maple syrup urine disease. He researched the trajectory of the genetic disease through generations of the family from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.
During his time with the National Institutes of Health, Bloom learned techniques in genetic research for which there was a need in Hiroshima, and he was asked if he wanted to travel to Japan to apply what he learned in terms of the analysis of human chromosomes after radiation exposure. He was ready to go.
“We were to study the effect of radiation on those who survived in terms of cellular abnormalities,” he said. “We had techniques now to grow those cells and analyze the chromosomes in great detail. We found enormous amounts of residual damage, and they went on to have lots of cancers.
“These effects of radiation are now well-established,” said Bloom, who set up labs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to work with what was then the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, now the Radiation Effects Research Foundation.
While in Japan at the time of the Vietnam War, he was taken by helicopter when called to the Marine Corps Air Station because of a mother in labor who was struggling in childbirth. The baby had died before he arrived.
That is the bleak side of pediatrics, but what drew Bloom to the field, he said, is that most of the youngest patients get better.
“When I was a medical student and intern working at Bellevue, we had an older population and they didn’t always get better,” he said. “But even babies born with congenital heart disease, you can usually cure, and even many of the child cancers you can treat, so generally, babies went home from the hospitals.”
From the Far East, Bloom was asked to join the faculty at the University of Michigan Medical School to teach in the fields of human genetics and pediatrics. Although he enjoyed his time there, when he got a call from Columbia to be a professor, Bloom said he relished the opportunity to return to the East Coast.
In 1989, Bloom traveled to Paris, where he worked with an international group of scientists and doctors to investigate environmental contamination in the Soviet Union.
“They had a lot of chemical factories and mines, especially uranium mining, so the contamination of eastern Europe was the focus of my work,” he said.
However, there were hurdles with a lack of funding for research, and since Bloom was living in Paris, he decided to begin to write in a more serious way with essays and stories.
“I started to make the shift to writing,” Bloom said. “It is possible to evolve, and it’s important because the population is aging and people are living longer and longer, so what do you do with your time? You have an opportunity not to just play golf and volunteer but to do other serious work if you are so inclined, or continue with your current work.”
Bloom is now working on a follow-up to a next generation of a character in his 2007 novel, “Citron’s Sonata.”
If you go
What: Book launch for “In My DNA” by Dr. Arthur Bloom
When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: The Cultural Center at Rocky Neck, 6 Wonson St., Gloucester
How much: Free
More information: 978-515-7004 or www.rockyneckartcolony.org