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  • Early Pediatric Rheumatology Care in Alabama

    As the department continued to grow, one of the most glaring deficiencies in was the lack of a stable pediatric rheumatology program. Dr. Joe Butler, who trained in pediatric rheumatology at the NIH, led the service for a brief period before his resignation in 1988. In 2000, Dr. Polly Ferguson, a board-certified pediatric rheumatologist was recruited from the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, she resigned her appointment to return to Iowa to help elderly parents. After her resignation, there were no board-certified pediatric rheumatologists in the entire state of Alabama for years. The national shortage of such specialists was particularly critical in the South.

    The rheumatology clinic was staffed primarily by adult rheumatologists from the UAB program. In the early days, the clinic was staffed Dr. Howard Holley and later by Dr. Gene Ball. Dr. Holley said, “The children have a special place in my thoughts because I know what they’re going through. They’ve suffered more in their short lives than most people ever will. And you hardly ever find one that complains.” Dr. Louis Heck was the director of the program from 1980 until 2000. Upon his departure, Dr. Prescott Atkinson, a member of the Division of Immunology, assumed the responsibility for pediatric rheumatology before and after Dr. Ferguson’s tenure. Dr. Richard Jones, an adult rheumatologist in Tuscaloosa, also helped with clinics in Birmingham and Mobile.

  • Division is Established

    The need for pediatric rheumatology specialists had to be quickly addressed. A plan was developed by partnering with the Arthritis Foundation of Alabama who committed to raise $1 million, and Children’s Hospital of Alabama, who committed $500,000 if it would be matched by UAB and agreed to the construction of a state-of-the-art clinic and an infusion therapy unit. Soon a $2 million endowment was established and a major recruiting effort was mounted. Dr. Randy Cron and his colleague, Dr. Tim Beukelman were recruited from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Cron was a nationally renowned pediatric rheumatologist with a successful research background, excellent clinical training and a proven mentor.  For these reasons, he was able to recruit Dr. Beukelman as his junior partner. Mr. Ted Kennedy, a very successful Birmingham businessman, played a key role in the recruitment of Dr. Cron and later contributed funds to establish an endowed fellowship program for the division.

    The many families with children with rheumatologic conditions and the faculty were delighted with the news. On September 10, 2007, the new Division of Pediatric Rheumatology Clinic at Children’s Hospital opened its doors in a brand-new facility.

  • Continued Growth of the Division

    The Division of Pediatric Rheumatology has become very successful and continues to expand. The faculty has grown to five members plus one to three fellows per three years of training. The division provides state-of-the-art clinical care to all patients in Alabama and neighboring states. A satellite clinic operates in Mobile with every other monthly visits by a faculty member. There are also every other monthly clinics in Huntsville and Montgomery. In addition to the more typical rheumatologic conditions, the group has developed research programs and clinical expertise in such areas as macrophage activation syndrome, temporomandibular joint arthritis, juvenile spondyloarthropathy and several programs assessing safety and efficacy of therapeutic interventions. The national visibility of the faculty is outstanding, and the faculty record of invited lectures and scientific publications is equally remarkable. Current faculty members include Drs. Randy Cron, Melissa Mannion, Mathew Stoll, John Bridges and Emily Smitherman.