Pediatrician Frank Oski, 64, dies of prostate cancer He had been director of Hopkins program

December 09, 1996|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

Dr. Frank Aram Oski, the noted former head of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who campaigned for breast milk rather than cow's milk for infants, died of prostate cancer Saturday at his home in Baltimore. He was 64.

Dr. Oski became director of Hopkins' department of pediatrics and pediatrician in chief at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in 1985 after building an international reputation as an expert on children's blood disorders and nutritional deficiencies.

In October, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

After redefining the children's center's mission in research, patient care and teaching this year, he retired because of failing health.

"For three decades, the children of this nation were fortunate to have Frank as their friend," said Dr. George J. Dover, who succeeded Dr. Oski in May. "He never was afraid to speak his mind because he knew he was speaking on behalf of children.

"He also loved his students, and he passionately challenged them to refuse to accept answers and to question assumptions," Dr. Dover said. "In return, he expected only precision and honesty."

Dr. Oski was a primary or co-author of 20 books and about 300 academic papers. He was senior editor of "Principles and Practices of Pediatrics," the standard textbook for pediatric training in the United States. "The Practical Pediatrician," his guide for parents, was published this year.

Before coming to Baltimore, he gained fame -- or notoriety, in the view of some -- for his book "Don't Drink the Milk," in which he attacked the belief that cow's milk is good for children.

Milk is high in fat and can trigger such problems as anemia and diabetes, and its nutrients are in other foods, Dr. Oski argued, a position that did not endear him to dairy farmers.

"There really is no nutritional reason anyone should drink milk," he said in 1992 in a joint anti-milk message with Dr. Benjamin Spock, the pediatrician and writer of books on child care.

As a strong proponent of breast-feeding, Dr. Oski also attacked health insurance plans that deny new mothers enough time in the hospital after delivery to effectively begin breast-feeding their babies. He emphasized the benefits of breast-feeding during the first three months of life to reduce the infant's risk of disease.

Dr. Oski was born and raised in Philadelphia, the son of a pharmacist, and earned his undergraduate degree at Swarthmore College, where he married Barbara Fassett..

Though slightly built, he was a star goalie for a Swarthmore lacrosse team that was ranked first in the nation. He remained a fervent sports fan and had season tickets for the Orioles and a season box at Pimlico Race Course.

Dr. Oski's original ambition was not medicine: He once said he found doctors stuffy and self-important. His real desire was to be a sportswriter or announcer, he said, but a lack of nerve tipped the balance toward medicine.

He earned his medical degree in 1958 from the University of Pennsylvania, where he also completed his internship and residency. He then had a fellowship at the Children's Hospital Medical Center in Boston, where he was a research fellow in pediatrics and a trainee in hematology.

In 1965, he joined Penn's faculty and he became head of the division of pediatric hematology at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. In 1972, he was named chairman of the department of pediatrics at the State University of New York at Syracuse.

Dr. Oski was a national leader in his field, serving on the editorial boards of nearly every major pediatric journal. Until his death, he was editor of Contemporary Pediatrics, which he founded, and co-editor of Current Opinion in Pediatrics.

He received numerous national honors, including the 1972 Mead Johnson Award for Pediatrics and the 1990 St. Geme Award for pediatric leadership from the Federation of Pediatric Organizations.

He was a past president of the Society for Pediatric Research and the American Pediatric Society.

Dr. Oski was a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Physicians, the scientific advisory board of the March of Dimes and the La Leche League for the promotion of breast-feeding.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Brown Memorial Park Avenue United Presbyterian Church, Park and Lafayette avenues in Baltimore.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Jessica Oski of Burlington, Vt., and Dr. Jane Oski of Kayenta, Ariz.; a son, Jonathan Oski of Westbury, Mass.; a brother, Richard Oski of Philadelphia; and two grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the church, or to John's Hopkins Children's Center, 111 Market Place, Suite 901, Baltimore 21202.

Pub Date: 12/09/96

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