Dr. John Johnson, youth AIDS expert


February 14, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Dr. John P. Johnson, a nationally known pediatric AIDS expert at the University of Maryland Medical System, died Friday of melanoma, a skin cancer, at his home in Sparks. He was 42.

An immunologist by training, Dr. Johnson was one of the foremost researchers in the country working with children infected by the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, starting that work in the mid-1980s.

He was chief of the pediatric department's Division of Allergy and Immunology at the University of Maryland Medical System at the time of his death and founded and oversaw its Pediatric AIDS Care and Evaluation program.

Since the program's start in 1986, it has worked with more than 500 children at risk of being infected with the AIDS virus.

"He was absolutely dedicated to what he was doing," said Dr. Prasanna Nair, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who worked for years with Dr. Johnson at the clinic.

Dr. Johnson, who was born in Camden, N.J., on Oct. 4, 1950, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, a master's degree in biochemistry from the University of Chicago and a medical degree from Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago.

In 1980, Dr. Johnson came to Maryland for a medical residency at Johns Hopkins, and in 1984 he joined the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

In 1985 and 1986, he saw three AIDS-infected children within a short period.

His concern about AIDS in children led to the founding of the pioneering University of Maryland clinic.

The clinic was the first in Maryland to provide evaluations for children suspected of being infected with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, said Clare Siegel, coordinator of the pediatric HIV project for Baltimore Head Start.

"He was on the edge of research and care for children with HIV infections," she said of Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Johnson had a deep commitment to the families of children suspected of being infected, said Susan Hines, a pediatric nurse practitioner who worked with him.

During a visit the day before he died, she said, "he put his hand over his chest and said this was his 'heartfelt work.' "

Dr. Johnson published many articles on the transmission of AIDS to children, and served on city, state and national panels involved with the AIDS issue.

"His major contribution was to make very clear and pressing the needs of children with HIV infections at a time when it was primarily an adult disease," said Dr. Eric Fine, assistant director for health services with the Maryland AIDS Administration.

Dr. Johnson is survived by his wife, Linda Heckman Johnson; sons John Clay, 7, and Benjamin, 6; two brothers, Benjamin A. Johnson of Chicago and Kirk B. Johnson of Winnetka, Ill.; a sister, Kathleen Johnson Browning of Mountain Lakes, N.J.; and his parents, William and Mary Barb Johnson, of Lake Forest, Ill., and Ocean Pines.

Services will be held at the Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St., Baltimore, at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

The family suggested that memorial contributions could be made to the John P. Johnson Lecture/Symposium Series in Pediatric Immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

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