Tulane neonatologist Betty Martinez dies at 60; trained future pediatricians _lowres

Betty Martinez

Dr. Bertha T. “Betty” Martinez, a neonatologist with the Tulane University School of Medicine, died Sunday of cancer at a hospice in Cape Coral, Florida. She was 60.

Martinez was born in Cuba and lived in Mandeville.

She was trained as a general surgeon before starting her pediatric residency at Tulane in 1992.

She completed her fellowship in neonatology in a combined Tulane-LSU program in 1998 and was a member of the neonatal group at Tulane’s medical school for the past 17 years. She also worked at Charity Hospital and University Hospital.

Martinez received numerous teaching awards, including the outstanding faculty award from the pediatric residents at Tulane, where she trained many future pediatricians.

In a message to the department of pediatrics at Tulane, her brother, Dr. Fernando Martinez, said more than 50 people she had trained visited her at her home before she left for Florida.

The visitors “came to see her and thank her for the profound influence she had on all of their careers,” he said.

Friends said she remained optimistic and feisty before she left Louisiana.

“Sometimes, people come into your life and they change your path,” said Dr. Lisa Barbiero, a Tulane neonatologist. “It’s not always obvious while it’s happening, but you can look back and know that your life was undeniably altered for the better because of them.”

Barbiero said Martinez was such a person in her life.

“Her bedside presence was unparalleled,” Barbiero said. “Dr. Martinez would spend days upon nights upon days while mothering these innocent, critically ill infants.”

Kathryn Howard-Smith, a neonatal nurse practitioner who knew and worked with Martinez for more than 20 years, called her an “intelligent, giving, gentle soul who put her work and patients before everything, including herself.”

“She taught nurses, nurse practitioners, medical students and residents day and night,” Howard-Smith said. “She never accepted mediocrity from anyone.”

Dr. Alfonso Vargas, a neonatologist who trained with Martinez, said she “taught me to love my babies, to treat them as if they were my own children.”

When Hurricane Katrina threatened, Martinez “told me to go home to my wife and kids and evacuate instead of making me stay at the hospital,” Vargas said.

Martinez remained at the hospital as the storm wreaked havoc on the city.

Vargas said Martinez will “continue to heal through my hands and through the hands of countless students, residents and fellows” who worked with her.

In addition to her brother, who lives in New York, survivors include two sisters, Angela Couret Martinez, of Caracas, Venezuela; and Marta Martinez, of St. Augustine, Florida.

No funeral is planned, in accordance with Martinez’s wishes, but a remembrance of her life will be scheduled later at Tulane. Mullins Memorial Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements in Cape Coral.