Dr. John T. Chissell, 77, family physician in city

May 26, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. John T. Chissell, a retired Baltimore physician whose own blood pressure condition sparked an interest in the benefits of alternative medicine, died of undetermined causes Thursday in Nashville, Tenn.

The Forest Park resident, who was 77, had traveled to Nashville to attend the 50th anniversary reunion of his Meharry Medical College class. He was found dead in his hotel room. The cause of death was being investigated by the Nashville coroner, family members said.

Dr. Chissell was born in Charlottesville, Va., the son of a physician, and raised in Alexandria, Va. He earned a degree in biology in 1950 from Virginia State College in Petersburg. After graduating from Meharry, he completed his internship at Homer G. Phillips Hospital in St. Louis.

"He was inspired to be a physician by his father, who told him he could do anything he wanted as long as he applied himself," said his daughter Crystal R. Chissell, mayor of Highland Beach and assistant attorney general for the Maryland Environmental Service.

In 1955, Dr. Chissell moved to Baltimore and joined his brother, Dr. H. Garland Chissell Jr., in a family medical practice at an Edmondson Avenue office. The brothers later relocated to the Madison Park Professional Center on North Avenue.

H. Garland Chissell, who was later chief of staff at the old Provident Hospital and helped develop the Monumental Health Plan, a now-defunct black health maintenance organization, died in 1991.

In 1971, Dr. John Chissell became the first African-American president of the Maryland Academy of Family Physicians. He was chief of the department of family practice and clinical director of ambulatory care services at Provident from 1973 to 1976.

After retiring from his practice in 1987, Dr. Chissell turned his attention to alternative medicine and established Positive Perceptions Group, a health-education network. He wrote that his goal was to "study, model, motivate and teach the principals and practices of optimal health."

"He had a special interest in actualizing optimally healthy lifestyles and the continuing education of health care providers with regard to the principles and practices of what he called `optimal health,'" said his daughter. "It is the study and teaching of the best possible emotional, intellectual, physical, spiritual and socioeconomic aliveness that we can attain."

He had suffered from hypertension since the early 1970s, and his medical condition became the inspiration for his seeking alternative medical treatments.

"He changed his entire lifestyle and became a strict vegetarian. He started to exercise and studied relaxation techniques. He developed his spiritual life through meditation. All of this added 30 years to his life," Ms. Chissell said. "He didn't like the side effects of drugs and felt that people shouldn't have to live their lives medicated."

"John believed in the power of adults to enhance the promise of the creator and the avoidance of disease was available to everyone," said Kweisi Mfume, a longtime friend and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "He was a powerful figure in the medical community and there is a hole in the hearts of those who called him friend."

Dr. Chissell based his book, Pyramids of Power: An Ancient African-Centered Approach to Optimal Health, on African history and philosophy. He also was host of a radio call-in show, Healthline 2010, on WEAA-FM.

"The thing that comes to mind about John was his unflagging scholarship that he brought to the topics he discussed. He was also an advocate for equal access to health care for all people, and especially minorities," said Dr. Oakley H. Saunders Jr., a retired Baltimore physician. "He didn't fear to tread where others might be timid."

"He was an amazing guy and a much-beloved healer. The things I liked about him were his spirituality and his nonjudgmental attitude, no matter what he was talking about," said J. Stanley Heuisler, former editor of Baltimore Magazine.

A charter diplomate of the American Board of Family Practice, Dr. Chissell also was an assistant professor of medicine at Howard University Medical School. He was a charter fellow and life member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, and life member of the National Medical Association.

Services will be held at noon tomorrow at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1300 Druid Hill Ave.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by another daughter, Carla Chissell of Washington; a sister, Connie C. Young of Bowie; and several nieces and nephews. His marriage to the former Carolyn King ended in divorce.

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