Friday, January 31, 2014

Funeral Card Friday (January 31, 2014) -- Dr. Robert Douglas Jeffs

Robert Douglas "Bob" Jeffs was my wife's uncle (younger brother of Molly's mother) and the grand uncle to our sons. Bob was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 14, 1924 and he died in Owings Mills, Maryland on August 28, 2006.

Bob Jeffs was the son, nephew, and grandson of physicians, so it was probably no surprise when he decided to go into medicine himself. When World War II broke out, Bob put his pre-med studies on hold and joined the Canadian Air Force in 1941.  He resumed his studies following the end of the war and graduated with his medical degree from the University of Toronto (his father's alma mater).

During a Fellowship at London's Great Ormond Street Hospital Bob became very interested in pediatric urology and when he returned home to Canada he began working at both Toronto Western Hospital and Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. He became a very skilled and sought after pediatric surgeon and performed several surgical firsts including the reimplantation of a child's kidney. He and colleagues in Toronto later performed an early and large series of pediatric kidney transplants.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Bob began investigating in Toronto the possibilities for surgically correcting a birth defect known as "bladder exstrophy." This congenital condition results in a part of the urinary bladder being present outside the body.  It is caused by the failure of the abdominal wall to close during fetal development and a part of the bladder protrudes as a result.  It is a rare condition that occurs only once in every 10,000 to 50,000 live births, but it can be a devastating condition for a child and his/her family. The condition is twice as common in males as in females.

Bob began his work on surgical repair of bladder exstrophy cases and eventually developed a staged approach to the repair that brought worldwide attention to his surgical skills and methods. At first his surgical repair methods were deemed experimental and "cutting edge" treatment, but now it is the standard of care for most children born with this particular bladder abnormality.

Bob Jeffs was the Director of the Division of Pediatric Urology at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto from 1960 - 1975. In 1960 he was also Chairman of Urology at the Academy of Medicine in Toronto. In 1962 he returned to his alma mater as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Surgery.  Beginning in 1973, he served as the President of the medical staff at the Hospital for Sick Children for two years.

In 1975 Bob was recruited by the Chairman of the Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins University to join the faculty and he became the founding chief of the Institute's Division of Pediatric Urology. Bob was Professor and Director of the Division of Pediatric Urology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for 20 years from 1975 until 1991. During his time as Director of the Division, he instituted an annual picnic to bring together patients and their families to learn about urological illnesses in an atmosphere where they could also share their experiences with one another and with their medical caregivers.  The picnic continues today as an annual tradition.

Photograph from the program of the 7th annual
National Kidney Foundation Ball in honor of Dr. Robert D. Jeffs (1987)

When Bob died at age 82 in 2006, a decades-long colleague of his said, "Bob Jeffs took a birth defect of great magnitude and made it his own.  He changed the lives of children and adolescents who used to live lives of reclusiveness, embarrassment, and chronic disease and gave them new hope and new lives." 

The painting of Dr. Robert D. Jeffs that now hangs in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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Photographs from original documents in the family collection.
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Copyright 2014, John D. Tew
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