Sunday was Father’s Day—we honored those who helped to give us life and raise us into the people we have become. Mother’s Day, in May, presented the same opportunity. In our profession, we often have intellectual or inspirational mentors who are in many ways our professional progenitors. This is an ideal time of year to salute them as well.
Beginning on a sad note, we lost Adel Mahmoud, a former chair of medicine at Case Western Reserve and University Hospitals, just last week. We learned that he dedicated himself to conquering infections when he was just ten years of age. His father was dying of pneumococcal pneumonia and Adel was dispatched to a distant pharmacy to obtain antibiotics. He did not return in time and vowed that he would triumph over infections in his native Egypt and everywhere. He made good on that promise and beyond, training many generations of infectious disease and global health physicians, and was still teaching molecular biology and inspiring students at the time of his death. He was an academic father to many.
In two weeks, Bob Daroff will retire. Bob has cultivated generations of academic neurologists and chairs of neurology. He led the creation of the neurology department from a division in the department of medicine, developed the ocular motility lab, and trained numerous neurologists and neurological scientists during his extensive career at UH and the VA. He, too, was academic father to many!
My mentor and academic father was Paul DiSant’Agnese, who discovered the sweat test for cystic fibrosis. This seminal observation opened the line of research that ultimately led to the discovery of the basic disease defect as one of chloride transport. Equally important, he trained a number of fellows while he was at the NIH, imbuing all of us with the idea that the disease was bigger than us as individuals and that we needed to work together to solve it. His philosophy set the tone for the extraordinary collaborative effort that led to the discovery of the CF gene and later, the concerted national effort to conduct clinical trials for drugs to ameliorate and ultimately cure the problem. His fellows grew to be department chairs, clinical division chiefs, center directors, deans, and heads of hospitals—profoundly influencing American pediatrics and academics. This cadre pressed forward, collaborating across boundaries—academia to industry, basic to clinical, and back—making CF the paradigm for success. We lost Paul several years ago but his spirit infused generations of academic leaders.
One of this year’s Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation Saltzman Award winners, Fabio Cominelli, has been the father of several drugs now released for inflammatory bowel disease and has a passion for training students, postdocs, and fellows in the linkage between the laboratory and the clinic. He’s done so not only at CWRU but also at the University of Virginia, and he still trains students from his native Italy here in the U.S.
And it’s not just those with national reputations who are our professional fathers and mothers. Bob Haynie, the other recipient of this year’s Saltzman Award, has inspired generations of internists at Mt. Sinai Hospital and then generations of medical students here at CWRU. He insists that we remember we live in a larger community, and that as physicians we owe that community some of our intellectual and energy capital.
Nancy Johnson, triple alumna of CWRU, champion of women in medicine, and strong advocate for strategic management of teen pregnancies, had her ninetieth birthday a few weeks ago, with 100 people in attendance. She has been an inspiration to so many for her perseverance and grace, vigor (intellectual and physical), and delightful sense of humor and drive. She has been godmother to many of us.
Nancy and Bob—regional heroes both, and important to so many! They and other fathers and mothers have influenced us, mentored us, guided us, inspired us, and convinced us to try yet again to accomplish our goals. Probably you have a professional father or mother—likely more than one. Would you consider a note to them to thank them for all they have done?
From our mentors, we learn not only our discipline’s intellectual content, but the philosophy of science, collaboration, diligence, and leadership. I am grateful to all of our professional fathers and mothers who have taught us to put our patients at the center of our work, to come together to solve the clinical problems of our day, to remain steadfast in our principles, and to always seek to learn more and think smarter in the endless pursuit of excellence. Thanks to each and every one of you!
Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD
Dean, School of Medicine
Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs, Case Western Reserve University
Arline and Curtis Garvin Research Professor
2109 Adelbert Rd. BRB 113
Cleveland OH 44106