The Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition is a relatively new entity. It has a history of being a small but robust program, with marked growth over the past decade. The following is the history of the division by decade.

  • 1982-1989

    The founding father of pediatric gastroenterology (GI) at UAB and Children’s of Alabama was Dr. Jose Mestre. He was recruited in 1982 to establish a brand new division. He joined as faculty following completion of his fellowship at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. He was instrumental in establishing not only the outpatient and inpatient GI services but also for bringing pediatric fiber-optic endoscopy to Birmingham. As an aside, Dr. Basil Hirschowitz invented and perfected fiber-optic endoscopy in adults at UAB in 1959. Dr. Mestre was the sole pediatric gastroenterologist in the state and the only faculty member in the division. In 1987, he left to start a private practice in town but continued resident teaching both in his practice and at UAB and Children’s of Alabama.

  • 1990-1999

    After Dr. Mestre’s departure, the division had no formal faculty until 1990, when Drs. Frank Franklin and Ray Figueroa joined the division. Dr. Franklin was appointed the new division director. His research and clinical interests were in nutrition and lipid metabolism. He was a recognized leader in the field and was very successful during this period with numerous publications and extramural funding. Dr. Figueroa’s interests were in nutrition and obesity and he had several grants to fund studies in obesity and metabolism.

    During this decade, Dr. Franklin continued to lead as the division director. Additional faculty added to the division included Drs. James Wright and Pamela Brown. Dr. Brown’s research included a randomized controlled trial of glutamine in the treatment of pediatric patients with intestinal failure.

    The division continued to provide medical student and resident training in both the inpatient and outpatient arenas. With the addition of new faculty, Dr. Franklin was able to establish the first pediatric gastroenterology fellowship at UAB. The first fellow was Dr. Paul Harris, who was involved in seminal research in collaboration with Dr. Phil Smith. Dr. Harris has gone on to be an international leader in pediatrics and pediatric GI after returning to Chile.

    By the end of this decade, Drs. Roberto Guerrero and Cary Cavender joined the division. During this time, Dr. Brown left UAB and joined the faculty at the University of Michigan. Dr. Figueroa left academia for some time and took a position with Mead Johnson. Ultimately, Drs. Figueroa and Guerrero settled into private practices in Florida.

    In 1997, the division experienced a tremendous loss with the death of Dr. Wright. Beyond being a national leader in pediatric GI, he was an exemplary physician, teacher, researcher, husband and father. To honor his life, the James Wright Lectureship was established. This program continues to support bringing leaders in pediatric GI, nutrition and hepatology to present at an annual Grand Rounds at Children’s of Alabama.   

  • 2000-2009

    The new millennium brought growth and new challenges. Dr. Franklin’s passion for public health and nutrition resulted in being named the chair of Maternal and Child Health at the UAB School of Public Health. Dr. Tim Boyle was recruited from Tufts University to become the new division director in 2002. Dr. Boyle’s academic efforts were in gastrointestinal motility issues. In addition, Dr. Shehzad Saeed also joined the faculty from Tufts University. Dr. Saeed’s research and clinical focus was inflammatory bowel disease. Over the next few years, several previous pediatric GI fellows joined the faculty. The addition of Drs. Steven King, Jeanine Maclin and Jan Nogueira allowed the division to expand services including treating pediatric patients with liver disease. By partnering with the UAB Department of Surgery, the division was able to begin caring for pediatric liver transplant patients.

    As mentioned, there were some noted challenges to the division during this period, Drs. King and Cavender left UAB to open yet another private practice in Birmingham. A few years later, Dr. Boyle accepted a faculty position at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

    After the departure of Dr. Boyle, Dr. Saeed was selected to be the next division director. Under his leadership, the division continued to grow. In addition to the previous fellows joining the faculty, Dr. Kirk Thame was recruited from Jamaica. Dr. Thame completed fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. His area of expertise was also in motility disorders of children.

    At the end of decade, Dr. Saeed was recruited to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital as the medical director for their Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Program. 

  • 2010-2019

    Dr. Reed Dimmitt was appointed to division director in 2010, after serving as the interim division director in 2009. That same year, Dr. Meredith Hitch was recruited to the faculty after completing a fellowship at Washington University. She was a member of the faculty for a few years until accepting a position in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Dr. Thame left soon after for a faculty position at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Traci Jester completed her training at UAB and joined shortly thereafter. The addition of new faculty allowed the division to develop new sub-specialty programs. To this end, Dr. David Galloway was recruited to direct the Intestinal Rehabilitation Program. Drs. Jester and Maclin developed a dedicated Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program that is nationally recognized by the multi-center collaborative Improve Care Now.

    In 2013, Dr. Mitch Cohen was recruited to be the new chairman of Pediatrics at UAB, as well as another pediatric GI faculty member. Under his leadership, UAB was able to bring Dr. Jose Mestre back to UAB. The addition of Dr. Mestre was the catalyst for the most rapid growth ever for the division. Over the past five years a number of additional programs were established and new faculty were specifically recruited to lead them. Dr. Rachel Kassel joined the faculty from Washington University to be the medical director of the Intensive Feeding Program. Dr. Nick CaJacob finished fellowship at UAB and directs the Eosinophilic GI Disease Program. Lastly, Drs. Mike Leonis and Gillian Noel joined Dr. Nogueira to form a robust Liver Disease Program.

    Because of our rapid growth, the division was able to develop some novel approaches. We now have two pediatric psychologists, Drs. Margaux Barnes and Marissa Gowey. They are primarily research focused, studying weight management and IBD, respectively. We also have been successful in hiring general pediatricians that are embedded in the outpatient clinics. Dr. Erin Bhatia was the first general pediatrician and was in the division for two years while her husband was completing a surgical fellowship at UAB. We were fortunate to recruit Dr. Amanda Soong from private practice to serve the same role.

    Our fellowship program has also grown and now has two positions each year. Our graduating fellows have almost exclusively accepted academic positions. Included in this group are:

    Paul Harris, M.D. | Catholic University, Santiago, Chile

    Brian Morris, M.D. | Ochsner Hospital

    Jeanine Maclin, M.D. | UAB

    Jan Nogueira, M.D. | UAB

    Reed Dimmitt, M.D. | UAB

    Traci Jester, M.D. | UAB

    Nick CaJacob, M.D. | UAB

    Erika Smith, M.D. | Ochsner Hospital

    Naren Vadlamudi, M.D. | Virginia Commonwealth University

    Nagraj Kasi, M.D. | Medical University of South Carolina

    Osman Ahmad, M.D. | University of Florida

    Saurahb Talathi, M.D. | University of Oklahoma