History of Pediatric Endocrinology

A trans-Atlantic phone call in 1956 set in motion a series of decisions still reflected in the Department of Pediatrics Section of Endocrinology. Placing the call was C. Henry Kempe, MD, a recent arrival in Denver to chair the Department of Pediatrics. The recipient in London was Donough O’Brien, MD, FRCP, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, educated at Cambridge University, and the son of Arthur John Rushton O’Brien, director of the Colonial Medical Service. Present in Kempe’s office was John Githens, MD, an associate professor and former Chief Resident at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

In a 2007 interview with James Todd, MD, and M. Douglas Jones, Jr., MD, Githens recalled the conversation: “He (Kempe) just started recruiting right away. For example, about the second day he was in, he asked me to come up to the office and talk to him about our needs. And I said, ‘At the moment our greatest need is to have a Pediatric laboratory so that we didn’t have to have 10 ml of blood serum from little babies and young children to get simple blood work done. We needed to have a microchemistry lab.’ He thought a minute and called a friend in Boston who gave him—I mean, he did things right away—he gave him Donough O’Brien’s name, because Donough had taken fellowship time in Boston. Then he calls Donough O’Brien in London and offers him the job, which Donough accepted.”

The connection was clear. O’Brien not only established one of the nation’s first pediatric microchemistry labs at the University of Colorado, he was awarded the University of Colorado Medal in 2000 and named the first executive director of the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. His contribution to pediatric health had international reach and continued long after his retirement.

Today’s Section of Endocrinology provides clinical services at the Pediatric Endocrine and Growth Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado and The Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. Children from the surrounding eight-state area make more than 20,000 visits to the Center annually. Outreach clinics are in place throughout Colorado and Wyoming, and a telemedicine system serves families at a distance from the hospital.

Collaborative clinical programs with other subspecialty departments at Children’s Colorado are in place to provide endocrine support for children who have had bone marrow transplantation, brain tumors, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, asthma, and a variety of metabolic and genetic disorders, including glycogen storage disease, hypoglycemia, Turner syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Klinefelter syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome and obesity-related disorders.

The University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Colorado offers a three-year fellowship in Pediatric Endocrinology for clinical or academic medicine. Fellows rotate at three primary teaching sites, Children’s Hospital Colorado, University Colorado Hospital, and the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes.

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