He had a tough job.
As Santa Clara Countys Public Health Officer he took on everything from TB to obesity.
He also had to respond to emerging health threats like Swine Flu. Now. after nearly 30 years with the department, Dr. Marty Fenstersheib is retiring.
His co-workers said no matter how frightening or complicated a public health threat appeared to be, Dr. Fenstersheib talked to people as if he were their neighbor.
That compassion and clarity has been instrumental in guiding the Santa Clara County through everything from the AIDS epidemic to fears about West Nile Virus. Dr. Marty Fenstersheib first came to Santa Clara County in 1984, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.
“I actually was the first person in the health department that gave results to people that they were HIV positive. The test came out in 1985 and nobody knew what to do, so no one wanted to give the results. So i did,” Fenstersheib said.
Now, 30 years later, as he prepares to leave his post. He says he considers establishing clinics for those with HIV and aids one of the highlights of his career.
One of his biggest challenges? Responding to the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu. “It was a brand new disease. People had no immunity.
There was no vaccine and people in the community were getting sick, people in the world were dying,” Fenstersheib said.
Dr. Fenstersheib and his team sprang into action, and held the first mass H1N1 vaccinations clinics in the county.
More than 4,000 people got shots in one day. In between dealing with public health threats including SARS, TB and West Nile, he preached prevention. Working to get kids to exercise more, eat better and protect communities from second hand smoke.
"He’s like the Mr. Rogers of public health the person who is everyone’s neighbor and everybody’s doctor,” Aimee Reedy, Santa Clara County Public Health Department Director of Programs said.
Others describe him as a visionary. He made sure the department prepared for bio-terrorism threats well before 9/11.
And just last year he mandated that all county public health workers get a flu vaccine. "That helped protect patients. Marty always put patients first,” Dr. Thomas Dailey with Kaiser Santa Clara said.
On Friday, Dr. Fenstersheib retires, leaving behind a legacy of putting patients and the public health first.