VUMC Mourns Pediatric Hematology Icon Lukens

January 15, 2010

BY: JESSICA ENNIS

A pioneer and a devoted contributor in the research and treatment of children with cancer has died. John N. Lukens Jr., M.D., the founding director of the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Vanderbilt University and professor, Emeritus, died at home on Jan. 12. He was 78.

Dr. Lukens came to Vanderbilt in 1975 to lead the program in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, and served as director from 1975 to 1998. He retired from Vanderbilt in 2001.

“John was an inspiration to innumerable Vanderbilt trainees, including myself, and he leaves a rich legacy of mentorship within and beyond this institution,” said James Whitlock, M.D., who was Dr. Lukens’ successor from 1998 to 2009 and is the Craig-Weaver Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

John N. Lukens Jr., M.D.

“John was a model physician in his compassionate and caring approach to children with cancer and blood diseases — particularly in the early days of his career when effective therapies were lacking for so many. And he was a loving father and husband to a wonderful family.”

In 2005, Dr. Lukens created a bequest with his retirement plan, naming Vanderbilt as the beneficiary.

Through a charitable remainder trust, he and his wife, Mary Macauley (Cauley), pledged support for the John N. Lukens Chair in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

A Harvard-educated physician, Dr. Lukens had been working in the field for 14 years on the faculty of several medical schools before he came to Vanderbilt.

In his career, Dr. Lukens saw the cure rate for children with cancer increase from 20 percent to more than 80 percent, and he participated in the design and conduct of the national trials that made these advances possible.

Dr. Lukens was also a driving force in establishing the Ronald McDonald House in Nashville, which opened in 1991.

“John’s contributions have been profound. He not only drove advances in the science of caring for children with cancer, but helped launch the careers of many of the leading cancer physicians in this country. John has been a constant inspiration to so many faculty, staff and patients at Vanderbilt in the care of children under the most tragic of circumstances. We will all miss him,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

At Vanderbilt, Dr. Lukens spent 18 years on Vanderbilt’s Medical School Admissions Committee, the last nine years of which he served as chairman.

He served as president of the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, chair of the Subboard of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, vice-chair of the Children’s Cancer Group, chairman of the American Cancer Society’s National Institutional Grant Committee, and on numerous site visit committees for the National Cancer Institute and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

He was an editor of Wintrobe’s “Clinical Hematology,” the most widely used hematology textbook for the past half-century.

“Dr. Lukens was the very essence of the academic physician. He was compassionate in his care of patients, wise in his dealings with colleagues and students, and always thoughtful about the ways that new knowledge could benefit children with cancer,” said Jonathan D. Gitlin, M.D., James C. Overall Professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics.

“His loss is a significant one for the department, however his legacy continues on in all of his trainees who now represent him so well on our faculty.”

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters and five grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 4-6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 15, at Christ Church Cathedral, with the funeral at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16.

The family requests that memorial gifts be directed to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, PMB 407727, 2301 Vandy Place, Nashville, TN, 37240-7727.

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