September 2, 2010

Vanderbilt mourns loss of former Pediatrics icon Karzon

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David T. Karzon, M.D.

Vanderbilt mourns loss of former Pediatrics icon Karzon

David T. Karzon, M.D., professor of Pediatrics emeritus, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center from 1968 to 1986, and the founder of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, now the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, died Thursday, Aug. 26. He was 90.

Described by his friends as quiet, humble and an excellent listener, Dr. Karzon joined the Department of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt before there was a Children’s Hospital. During his interviews for the position, he shared his vision to create a hospital that would serve the health care needs of children and pioneer significant change in the field of pediatrics.

Dr. Karzon believed children shouldn’t be treated simply as small adults in the hospital. Rather, they needed treatments tailored to children and different food choices, different visiting hours and a different routine.

A freestanding children’s hospital was not affordable when he became chairman, but with the blessing of the University and the Medical Center and the support of the community, in 1970 he developed the idea of a “hospital within a hospital” model in the Medical Center’s Round Wing.

He bridged the gap existing among Vanderbilt and the community pediatricians and persuaded the Junior League to join forces with him. He started the Friends of Children’s Hospital volunteer organization and under his auspices, the Iroquois Steeplechase began donating their proceeds to the Children’s Hospital. Playrooms for young hospitalized patients were incorporated and school teachers for older children were assigned to the hospital for bedside teaching.

By 1980, all Children’s Hospital patients were housed under one roof in a home-like, family-oriented atmosphere on two floors of Vanderbilt University Hospital.

As chair of Pediatrics, he grew the department and its faculty, incorporating both basic science and clinical research into the department and establishing 12 subspecialty divisions under Pediatrics. When he became chair in 1968, the Department of Pediatrics had 12 faculty and 12 house staff. By 1986, the Department, including academic and clinical faculty, research fellow and house staff, totaled about 195.

“What David brought to Vanderbilt is what the culture at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt is known for today – patient and family-centered care,” said Jonathan Gitlin, James C. Overall Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics.

“He brought a vision here, that he was going to bring Vanderbilt into the modern era of Pediatrics, and in the time he was chair he built the burgeoning faculty of the Department of Pediatrics,” Gitlin said, adding that many of Dr. Karzon’s faculty recruits are leaders in their field, both at Vanderbilt and at other institutions.

Kathryn Edwards, M.D., director of Vanderbilt’s Division of Pediatric Clinical Research, was hired by Karzon into her first faculty position at Vanderbilt 30 years ago.

“He was an enormous presence in my academic life,” Edwards said. “As an internationally known expert in pediatric infectious diseases, he critically reviewed my research, was always available for counsel, and meticulously edited my manuscripts. He was extremely bright, asked very probing questions, and expected excellence.

"Sometimes it seemed that he set the mark higher than I could achieve, but his approach always brought out the best in me. I could never settle for getting by, David would be there to expect the best. I think that he was critical in my academic success…He had an enormous impact on the lives of children and on his faculty. He will be greatly missed,” Edwards said.

Karzon, the youngest of four children, was born in New York City on July 8, 1920. He grew up in New York and Connecticut and headed to Yale University for pre-medical studies in 1936. He transferred to the Ohio State University for his sophomore undergraduate year, studied wildlife conservation, and graduated in 1941.

Soon after being accepted into Johns Hopkins Medical School, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Dr. Karzon was drafted into the U.S. Army.

With the Army’s support, he completed Johns Hopkins in 1944 on an accelerated schedule and won a coveted internship in Internal Medicine on the Osler service at Hopkins After his military service, he became chief resident at Sydenham Hospital, an infectious disease hospital staffed by Johns Hopkins.

During a severe outbreak of diphtheria in Baltimore, for six months Dr. Karzon never left the park property since he was on call 24 hours a day to perform tracheotomies on patients who would have otherwise choked to death. Half of his patients were children and he became intrigued.

“I liked their honesty. When they are mad, they may kick you,” Dr. Karzon said in a 1997 interview with the VUMC Reporter. “But I also learned that by dealing with children with patience, and communicating at their level of understanding, they can be cooperative and brave. They were pure people and I liked them very much.”

He held faculty positions at Johns Hopkins and at State University of New York at Buffalo before coming to Vanderbilt in 1968.

Dr. Karzon was known to many for his ability to listen, said Peter Wright, M.D., professor of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H., a former colleague of Dr. Karzon’s.

“I tried to learn from his ability to sit quietly at a meeting and, in what was often the last word, summarize and crystallize the essence of the scientific discussion in front of the group.” Wright said.

Dr. Karzon was also a “remarkable judge of the potential of a young investigator,” and was first and foremost a good husband, father and grandfather, “often fully outfitted as a bumblebee for Halloween,” Wright said.

Dr. Karzon’s legacy continues today at Vanderbilt. John A. Phillips III, M.D., holds the David Karzon Chair in Pediatrics and The David Karzon, M.D., Award is presented each year to the resident at the Children’s Hospital who best exemplifies Dr. Karzon’s natural curiosity, love of science and dedication to research.

Dr. Karzon received many awards of his own during his career, including the FDA Commissioner’s Award, the Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor Award from Vanderbilt in 1990 and induction into the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars in 2000.

Ian Burr, M.D., former chair of the Department of Pediatrics, said Dr. Karzon’s leadership in many of Children’s Hospital’s partnerships, including the Children’s Miracle Network, Iroquois Steeplechase and the Junior League of Nashville, has led to millions of dollars of support.

“But perhaps the most important trait exhibited by David was a strong sense of purpose, a considered approach to all endeavors, and a quiet demeanor that remained unruffled through many ups and downs. He was a true leader,” Burr said.

He is survived by his wife, Allaire; children David T. Karzon Jr., of Webster Groves, Mo., and Elizabeth Urban Karzon of Washington, D.C.; and three grandchildren, Lindsay Sarah Karzon of Philadelphia, Nicholas Andrew Karzon of New York City, and Emily Jasper Karzon of Washington, D.C.

Funeral arrangements will be private. A public memorial service will be held at Benton Chapel at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, PMB 407727, 2301 Vandy Place, Nashville, TN., 37240-7727.