Notable People

Dr. Robert Eiben - Cleveland's "Polio Doc"

13303 Lake Shore Boulevard, Bratenahl Place, and 2 Oakshore Green
Dr. Eiben in 1994 with two iron lungs
Dr. Eiben in 1994 with two iron lungs

Dr. Eiben's “first career” as an infectious disease physician at Cleveland Metropolitan Hospital began in 1945, right before the height of the polio epidemic that started in 1949.  Eiben became an expert in treating a disease that had no known cure.  His success with caring for and transitioning polio victims back to their homes gained national recognition for the hospital.

In 1950, Eiben assumed the responsibility as acting director of the Contagious Disease Unit.  Six months later, he assumed the additional role of interim director of the Pediatric Unit.  He also worked as a pediatrician for Parmadale Children’s Village.  All of this was performed in the context of his less-than-robust state of health.

For all his efforts, Eiben became known as “Greater Cleveland’s Polio Doc.” The advent of the Salk vaccine caused a dramatic fall in polio attacks. His patient load diminished, and Eiben was searching for a new career. Fortunately, he learned of a new, relatively unexplored field that specialized in pediatric neurology, and in 1960, he received a fellowship at the University of Washington in Seattle.

After his studies, Dr. Eiben returned to MetroHealth in 1963 as director of Child Neurology. His affection for Bratenahl that began as a graduate of Western Reserve University Medical School, enticed his family to stay close to Lake Erie and they moved to 13303 Lake Shore Boulevard on his return from Seattle.

He served as acting chief of clinical investigations at the Therapeutics, Developmental and Metabolic Neurology Branch of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke from 1976 to 1977. As an active member of the Child Neurology Society, he served as secretary-treasurer from 1978 to 1981 and as president from 1983 to 1985.

Robert was elected to Bratenahl Village Council in 1982 and served for 20 years until 1999. He was involved in the early struggle to save the Bratenahl schools. He became involved in negotiations with the superintendent of the Cleveland Public Schools about terms of the forced merger.

Robert M. Eiben was born to Michael and Francis Eiben in Cleveland on July 12, 1922. He was a “blue baby” at birth and suffered from a congenital heart defect.

He attended Cleveland Public Schools and graduated from West Technical High School in 1940. While in a class at Western Reserve Medical School, a cardiologist at City Hospital told the class that young people with cyanotic congenital heart disease are dead by age 30. Undeterred by the death sentence, Eiben completed an eight-year medical school program in six years. He graduated from Western Reserve School of Medicine in 1946, beginning his internship at University Hospitals of Cleveland.

Robert married Dorothy Crowley on June 22, 1946, a student nurse he had met during his internship at University Hospitals. She was born on January 13, 1926. They had six children: Daniel born on May 8, 1947, Christopher J., born on March 24, 1949, Thomas M., born on June 21, 1950, Mary P. (Balbo), Charles, and Elizabeth Ann, born on May 2, 1960.

Dorothy Eiben’s ill health prompted a move to Bratenahl Place in 1974. She died on November 6, 1974 and buried in Calvary Cemetery.

Robert remarried to Anne Balbo in 1981, a high school sweetheart who raised her own family of twelve children: Peter, Marianne (Karaffa), Ruth (Khalsa), Janne (Bissett), Martha (O’Leary), George, Jack, Susan (Kelley), Marc, Thomas, Joseph, and Constance (Rieb). Anne’s son George eventually married Eiben’s daughter Mary.

Anne was born in Cleveland on April 26, 1921. She was a 1940 graduate of West Tech High School and in the banking industry for over 25 years, most notably as a teller at the National City Lakewood Branch. She volunteered for many years at St. Vincent Charity Hospital, Euclid Hospital, and Western Reserve Hospice.

The Eibens were the first family to move into Oakshore Green.

Anne died on February 23, 2013. Robert died on December 28, 2013. Dorothy and Anne were buried on either side of Robert in Calvary Cemetery.

Eiben’s honors include the Robert M. Eiben Lectureship in pediatric neurology established at Case Western Reserve University, recognition by the Fourth International Congress of Poliomyelitis for his work on respiratory centers, being inducted into MetroHealth’s Hall of Honor. He also served multiple leadership roles, including the president, of the Child Neurology Society.