When Dr. Jeffrey Rosenfeld moved from Charlotte to California in 2008, some of his patients felt lost and abandoned. They begged him to come back and every few months, he does.
This Saturday, when Rosenfeld and about 10 of his patients gather in a donated office space, theyll share coffee, muffins and a devotion that crosses the continent.
When we all get together, its like a family reunion, said Fred Story, a Charlotte music composer who has been a patient of Rosenfelds since 2002. Its as much a social gathering as it is a medical clinic.
Story, who has a neuromuscular disease called myasthenia gravis, is one of the many patients who were shocked in 2007 to learn that Rosenfeld had been fired by Carolinas Medical Center.
Rosenfeld had been a star at CMC. He was recruited in 1998 to establish the Carolinas Neuromuscular/ALS Center with backing from Joe Martin, a former Bank of America executive who died in 2006 of ALS, also called Lou Gehrigs disease.
Hospital officials accused Rosenfeld of improper conduct in connection with instruction of medical students. Rosenfeld denied any impropriety and was vindicated a year later when the North Carolina Medical Board cleared him of wrongdoing. The board said he had a longstanding record of quality care, and was held in high esteem by peers and patients.
By that time, Rosenfeld had been recruited to California, where hes now chief of neurology at UCSF-Fresno and oversees development of the Central California Neuroscience Institute.
At 55, Rosenfeld has tried to heal and move on. But he continued to get calls from patients across the Southeast who credit him with giving them hope and one-of-a-kind attention. Some even flew to California for medical appointments. And a few asked him to return to Charlotte for periodic clinics.
He finally agreed when, much to his surprise, a patient who is also a doctor bought the medical malpractice insurance he needed to be able to practice in North Carolina.
When I found out he was coming back, I jumped for joy, said Story, whose illness is now in remission.
Before seeing Rosenfeld, Story said, I was headed to total disability. Then, after a two-day diagnostic session, Rosenfeld ruled out ALS and prescribed a regimen that put him on the track to better health. I always had the confidence that whatever new wrinkle was going to occur, I had the right guy to figure out what to do next, Story said.
Since 2010, Rosenfeld has returned to Charlotte for a weekend clinic every few months. He stays with his parents, who still live in Charlotte. And hes glad hes reconnected with patients after the sudden and involuntary parting.
This is what they couldnt take away, the bond that I had (with patients) and how they felt about me, Rosenfeld said. This reminds me why I became a doctor.
Rosenfelds Charlotte clinics came about largely at the persistence of Stephanie Ellis, whose husband, Tom, started seeing the doctor for a neuromuscular disease in 2001. Last summer, they flew to California for a face-to-face appointment.
If we werent going to see Dr. Rosenfeld, we werent going to see anybody, Stephanie Ellis said. Hes a unique doctor. He has an allegiance to all of us.
Rosenfeld doesnt charge for the Charlotte clinic visits. I dont want any money. I just want to see you if you want to see me. ... The only thing I ask of the patients is that they have a primary care doctor locally. I couldnt be their only doctor.
Grateful patients have wanted to defray Rosenfelds travel expenses. Stephanie Ellis collects about $500 to $1,000 at each clinic. As she says: Its a lot cheaper than going to California.