April 18, 2001
MEDIA CONTACT: David Bricker
John Phillips Dorst, M.D. director of pediatric radiology at Johns Hopkins for more than two decades, died of complications from a brain tumor on April 17 at Brightwood Genesis Eldercare in Lutherville, Md.
A prolific researcher and eminent clinician who played a key role in bringing the X-ray to maturity as a diagnostic tool, Dorst served as director of pediatric radiology at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center from 1966 to 1990 and as director of student education for radiology from 1989 to his retirement in 1995. He earned numerous honors, including the Society for Pediatric Radiology’s Pioneer Award in 1994 for his outstanding contributions to the scientific literature and for his role in advancing the interests of pediatric radiologists. The Johns Hopkins Department of Pediatrics gave him the Schaffer Award for Teaching in 1968.
Dorst was an expert on mucopolysaccharidosis and mucolipidosis, genetic disorders that prevent the proper formation or distribution of sugar and fat molecules, and helped identify some of the underlying biochemical defects in inherited bone disorders. Dorst wrote or co-authored more than 50 scientific papers, on subjects as diverse as lung cancer diagnosis, heart disease, Down syndrome, and numerous inherited bone malformations. In collaboration with Hopkins geneticist Victor McKusick, M.D., Dorst published Birth Defects: Original Articles Series, a seminal compendium of cases and diagnostic analyses. He continued to work with McKusick on genetics projects throughout his tenure at Hopkins.
"John was a vital part of the Johns Hopkins team made up of medical specialists from many fields to treat the various problems of ‘little people,’" said McKusick. "He was the world’s expert on recognizing the numerous different forms of bone abnormalities that cause dwarfing. But his interest in patients didn’t stop at their X-rays. He attended annual conventions of Little People of America and helped provide medical advice. He made many friends in that group."
Dorst was a member of 17 professional societies, including the Society of Pediatric Radiology, which he served as president in 1977 and 1978 and as chairman of its board of directors in 1978 and 1979. He served on the Maryland Advisory Committee on Child Abuse and was an active member of the Radiological Society of North America, Sigma Xi and the American Roentgen Ray Society. He also served as a consultant to the Little People of America Association as an expert on bone malformations and to the National Institutes of Health on issues in pediatric radiology.
The son of a physician, Dorst was born in 1926 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He received his M.D. from Cornell University Medical College in 1953 and completed postdoctoral training at the State University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City, at Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Minn., and at the Children’s Hospital of Cincinnati, Ohio. After joining the Hopkins faculty as an associate professor of radiology in 1966, Dorst earned full professorships in radiology in 1970 and pediatrics in 1978. He spent the rest of his professional career at Hopkins, became emeritus in 1995, but continued to work almost full-time as a research advisor to his Hopkins radiology colleagues.
Family and friends recall him as a gentle, courteous, loving man who had a great sense of humor. He was an avid lover of classical music and visual art who also enjoyed canoeing, sailing, hiking and cross-country skiing. "He was ardent about everything he did, whether he was teaching, attending the opera or doing work in the garden," recalls his wife, Marcia Kinney Dorst,of Columbia, Md.
His wife, children and grandchildren were a great joy to him. In addition to his wife of 50 years, Dorst is survived by their four children, Stanley Dorst, M.D., of Columbia, Mo., Heather Dorst of Columbia, Md., John R. Dorst of Shingle Springs, Calif., and Miranda (Margaret) Saunders of Woodland Hills, Calif, a step-brother, Louis Prince, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and a step-sister, Elizabeth Yungblut, of Sarasota, Fla.
The following are comments or reminiscences about Dr. Dorst made by colleagues who knew him well.
From Henry M. Seidel, M.D., M.D., Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics
"There’s no question that John was the superlative radiologist. I got to know John because we lived in the same city (Columbia, Md.) and shared rides to and from work. We were car pool buddies. Some days he would drive, some days I would, but one thing I remember is that John knew a great deal about art. He was passionate about it. He introduced me to opera, to The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. It was amazing, you could mention anything having to do with the arts and John would launch into a fascinating, 35-to-40-minute lecture on that subject -- as long as it took to ride home."
From Bob W. Gayler, M.D., Director of Johns Hopkins Radiology Central
"Dr. Dorst was deeply committed to the children and spent time with the patients and their parents, and then studied the images in great detail. He was particularly interested in congenital anomalies as the anatomy or function was affected. He never lost sight of the patient behind the image. His study of skeletal anomalies lasted his entire career and into partial retirement. He received recognition from the Little People of America for his efforts on behalf of patients with congenital skeletal anomalies. He was highly regarded for his teaching and brought radiographic images, drawings and analogy to bear in getting information out. As a teacher, he maintained a rare humility simultaneous with teaching, in a way that engaged the student in the process. After he went part time, he conducted the medical student elective course in radiology and maintained the same zeal that marked all his efforts while he was full time. He was very bright, thorough and inquisitive, while being gentle in his interactions."
From Jane E. Benson, M.D., Assistant Professor of Radiology
"Like many others, I knew him by reputation before I actually met him. I met him when I was a third-year Hopkins medical student doing my pediatrics rotation: a tall kindly man who could read your patient's X-rays like tarot cards and who could be found in the viewing room at all kinds of crazy hours, usually just when you needed him. This didn't quite fit with the reputation that my father (a Hopkins anesthesiologist) had related to me, of the accomplished ballroom dancer who whirled with such gusto at the Harriet Lane Wreckers' Ball. The next time I met him, he was my preceptor in the pediatric radiology elective. Together we sat in the CMSC basement, and I learned what fun it was to parse those mysterious shadows and nail the elusive diagnosis. He had a way of listening to you, as you fumbled your way around a film, that made you feel like a colleague and encouraged you to keep talking until you finally said the right answer."
From George W. Dover, M.D., Director of the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center
"Dr. Dorst’s contributions to the health of children are immeasurable. He pioneered the use of radiology in diagnosing both rare and common disorders in children. He was a masterful teacher who would use each request for interpretation of an X-ray as a chance to teach. Finally, he often made diagnosis on difficult cases from routine X-rays in children before the attending subspecialist. He was ‘the pediatrician’s radiologist’ and an academic pediatrician whom we all strive to emulate."
From Elias Zerhouni, M.D., Johns Hopkins Radiologist-in-Chief, Director of Clinical Practices
"I first met John when I was as a resident in Radiology here at Hopkins. I remember thinking he was remarkably humble and gentle for someone of his stature and reputation. He would teach us the most complex and subtle radiographic findings with endless patience. He constantly asked the opinions of his younger colleagues Kook Sang Ho and Janet Strife at the time. He never hesitated to admit that he did not know something but that we should research the answers together. At about that time, our daughter Yasmin was born here at Hopkins with breathing difficulties and had to be admitted to the NICU. A chest X-ray was required. My wife Nadia, a pediatrician, and I asked John to give us his opinion. I still remember how he reassured both of us and he was ultimately right, to our great relief. Many years later, as I became more experienced in Radiology, our son, an active teenager had a bruise on his nose, we had some films taken and I read them as negative. For more certainty, I showed the films to a colleague who concurred with me. Nadia again insisted on having John review the films. He was the one she trusted. To my lasting embarassment John found not one but two fractures I had missed -- he never missed! After his retirement, John took on the responsibility of organizing the Radiology elective for medical students. He did an outstanding job. We will miss him. He was a true giant of Pediatric Radiology."
A memorial service will be announced at a later date. The Dorst family will receive friends at the Slack Funeral Home, 3871 Old Columbia Pike, Ellicott City (410-465-4400) on Sunday, April 22, from 2:00 to 5:00 pm. The family requests that memorial contributions be made out to "Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine in memory of John P. Dorst" and sent to: The Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine; 201 N. Charles St., Suite 1400, Baltimore, MD 21201-4201. Photographs of Dorst are available online at http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/dorst.htm