Friends remember doctor killed in Scottsdale crash

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Friends remember doctor killed in Scottsdale crash

Dr. Robert “Bob” Arceci loved medicine, science, motorcycles and helping kids.

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Remembering Dr. Robert Arceci
Phoenix

Colleagues and friends of Dr. Robert “Bob” Arceci, a Valley physician and pediatric-cancer expert killed Monday in a hit-and-run crash in Scottsdale, remembered him Tuesday as a compassionate caregiver and brilliant researcher whose legacy will live on through the people he mentored.

At the time of his death, Arceci was hematology/oncology division chief at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and co-director of the hospital’s Ronald A. Matricaria Institute of Molecular Medicine, which uses genomic medicine to aid children with hard-to-treat cancers.

“Bob was known around the world as a brilliant cancer researcher and a skilled and compassionate pediatric oncologist,” Bob Meyer, PCH president and CEO, said in a statement Tuesday.

But as much as he was known for his medical expertise, friends said he was just as keen at making personal connections.

Arceci, 65, had a calming presence that assured patients and their families, remembers filmmaker Steve Bognar

Arceci collaborated with Bognar and co-director Julia Reichert for years to make the 2006 award-winning documentary, “A Lion in the House,” that followed five families with children diagnosed with cancer.

Bognar recalls filming on nights when patients got really sick at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and Arceci would “just show up” to work.

“I don’t know how (Arceci) heard, but he knew a kid was in crisis and he knew he should be there,” Bognar said. “He was an amazing human being.”

See Dr. Robert Arceci read from “The Plague”

Video courtesy of Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar.

Arceci was on the way to work Monday morning when the motorcycle he was riding collided with a trailer attached to a landscaping truck that turned in front of him near 69th Street and Shea Boulevard. Arceci leaves behind a wife and two sons.

Scottsdale police said Monday afternoon that three men were inside the truck that Arceci hit. Two of them stayed at the scene but a third one, believed to be the driver, fled. Scottsdale police were still searching for him on Tuesday but released no new information about the case.

The doctor had been injured a few years ago in a motorcycle accident that occurred in Colorado during a storm, according to his friend of about 40 years, Dr. Peter Newburger.

“(Arceci) hobbled around for a while and got right back in the saddle,” Newburger said. “I always worried about him riding, but it was a joy (for him).”

One of the things that made Arceci unique as a doctor was he combined his medical training with a Ph.D. in molecular and developmental biology, said Newburger, the Ali and John Pierce chair in pediatric hematology/oncology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. While Arceci’s death is a “setback” in the quest to cure pediatric cancers, it is not a “fatal blow,” he said.

“He trained and mentored a host of young physicians and scientists, and they will carry on in his place,” Newburger said. “I think we’ll miss the science and his leadership.”

Newburger met Arceci when the latter was a fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital, home to the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Newburger had tried unsuccessfully in the 1980s to lure Arceci to UMass but later succeeded in convincing him to become editor-in-chief of the medical journal Pediatric Blood Cancer.

Through the journal, Arceci helped build an international audience, Newburger said. Medical professionals from the United Kingdom, India and Egypt took to social media to express sorrow over Arceci’s death.

Arceci showed kindness with his patients and their families, Bognar said. Having “the energy of a 25-year-old” meant he was always full of ideas for new possible treatments. The doctor was a “special breed” because he willingly formed strong relationships with the kids he treated, even though he knew not all of them would survive.

“That’s the kind of person you want around you in a crisis,” Bognar said. “You need someone who’s realistic but not freaked out. (He) was always calm in the storm.”

Editor’s note: an earlier version of this story had filmmaker Steve Bognar’s name misspelled. We regret this error.