Alum of the Month

August 2018 Alum of the Month: Paul H. Brenner '52
Photo of Paul H. Brenner '52 | August 2018 Alum of the Month

Paul H. Brenner '52 is a physician who has spent the past 55 years bridging the gap between traditional and integrative medicine. Although he trained as an obstetrician, he has spent most of his career with cancer patients and the terminally ill. He simply redefines health as "the acceptance and appreciation of life." 

Brenner entered Hotchkiss in the fall of 1948. "I was from a lower middle class Jewish family, so Hotchkiss was a very different experience for me. I received an incredible education at the School, one that I draw on to this day. I took so much with me from my time in Lakeville - the world of great literature, the importance of good writing, and a sense of inner peace that can only be found within nature." Brenner matriculated at Brown University to study biochemistry and premed. 

He then went to New York Medical College, where he also did a residency in obstetrics and gynecology. This was followed by an American Cancer Fellowship in female cancer surgery, which resulted in a teaching position at the University of California School of Medicine at San Diego in charge of its Residency Program and Head of the Gynecologic Cancer Center. Brenner then became chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Scripps Memorial Hospital, where he had established a thriving practice, a wonderful family, and a home overlooking the Pacific. Yet, over time, he experienced a sense of restlessness. "For me," Brenner says, "I was in search of more. Not in the field of obstetrics, but within the field of cancer. The surgery I performed seemed archaic. I found far more meaning in medicine from listening to my patients, sitting with those dying who shared their lives and their earliest, most meaningful memories. I questioned if the role of their stressful lives could be part of their illness and also readily found similarity between their lives and mine. The space between the doctor-patient relationship began to evaporate. ... The white coat that defined my membership in the priesthood began to lose more of its starch." In time, this led Brenner to obtain a doctorate in Counseling Psychology. 

In 1972, Brenner was invited to an acupuncture symposium at Stanford University that would end up profoundly changing his life. On a lark, he later studied acupuncture in England and then in Taiwan and China. Although there were and are many rationales for how acupuncture works, to this day there is no consensus. But for Brenner, this further opened up the world of possibilities.

Over the next few years he studied other methods of healing with Native Americans and South American Shamanistic Healers, as well as biofield medicine and integrative medicine, before finally settling down at the San Diego Cancer and Research Institute, where he saw patients and did research. In 2000 Brenner wrote Seeing Your Life Through New Eyes, a book centered on the impact of early childhood on the emotional well-being of the now-adult. Brenner notes, "A few years after the book's publication, the field of Epigenetics burgeoned on the medical scene. Epigenetics is the study of how the environment can affect the expression of genes without changing the sequence of their DNA. This tweaked my interest and spoke to the missing pieces within my book. The implications of Epigenetics explain how the emotional generational past, the intrauterine experience, and early-childhood emotional experiences can impact our adulthood. Epigenetics essentially is what makes us appear to respond to life's experiences differently."

Recently, Brenner completed an interactive web-based application, "My" on this process. He says, "As a result of Epigenetics, my life and work came together: the past, the present, birth, obstetrics, disease, cancer, and death were no longer separate entities, but an interwoven continuum - that healing and health involve the untangling of this invading generational past from the evolving present." 

Brenner is currently writing an article based on Epigenetics, The Pitfalls of Observation, Deleting the Need to Judge, Compare or Understand. He says of the article, "The essence is that we are not born with a clean slate, but with inborn prejudices, fears of not having enough, and with an insatiable need for more. Nothing triggers the Epigenetic response more than emotional fear."

Brenner now lives in the mountains with his wife, Deborah, an artist. He has four children and nine grandchildren. He says, "It has been an amazing journey. It's not over, and thanks for allowing me to share a little of my life with you. I owe much to Hotchkiss and all those I was touched by."