Dr. Cheryl S. Alexander, 60, researcher in teen health

March 17, 2006|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Dr. Cheryl S. Alexander, a noted researcher in adolescent behavior and health and a longtime professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, died March 10 of a rare eye disease at her Cockeysville home. She was 60.

Dr. Alexander was diagnosed in 1999 with ocular melanoma, a disease for which there is no cure, colleagues said.

She was born Cheryl Sedlacek in La Jolla, Calif., the daughter of a career Navy dentist, and was raised at naval bases around the country. After graduating from high school in Portsmouth, Va. in 1963, she earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1967.

Dr. Alexander later taught nursing at North Carolina Central University and the University of Maryland, and earned a master's degree in nursing from New York University in 1971.

She was a 1973 graduate of the old Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, where she earned a master's degree in public health, which she followed four years later with a doctorate.

A nurse trained in public health issues and behavioral sciences, Dr. Alexander was a professor in the Bloomberg School's departments of population and family health sciences, and health policy and management. She also held an additional academic appointment with the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

Dr. Alexander's career focused on studying how neighborhoods, schools, peers and families influenced adolescent health behaviors. She also studied the role of gender in the health of young people.

She was the first director of the Center for Adolescent Health Promotion and Disease Prevention that had been founded by the Centers for Disease Control at the Bloomberg School in 1993, and served as its leader for the next decade.

The federally funded center works in partnership with young people, youth advocates and community and public policymakers to help urban adolescents develop and maintain healthy lifestyles.

"The center became a major force in Baltimore and a national model," said Dr. Robert W. Blum, chairman of the department of population and family health sciences in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "She was an extraordinary person whose work focused on adolescents, particularly high-risk youth. She also was a great collaborator who could work with people in the community and many agencies across Baltimore."

He added: "She was the most gentle, outstanding and caring individual. She brought a gentleness to everything she did and we did. Her death leaves a great void at Hopkins."

Pointing to what she termed the "gloomy details" of a 1997 national study on teenage drinking and drug use, Dr. Alexander told The Sun that more than 50 percent of high school students were sexually active, with 9 percent of them having engaged in sex before they were 13.

"Understanding behaviors will help us customize our response and influence the decision-making driving that behavior," Dr. Alexander said in the 1997 interview.

"What struck me about Cheryl was that her research and practice involved the entire community and she was able to give a voice to both adolescents and their families," said Dr. Kathleen M. Roche, an assistant scientist in the department of population and family health services. "She also established the Youth Advisory Committee, which is a part of the Center for Adolescent Health Promotion."

Despite her illness, Dr. Alexander continued teaching until two weeks before her death.

A prolific writer, she had published more than 50 research and book chapters relating to the study of adolescent health.

She served on numerous advisory committees, which included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Minority AIDS Initiative Evaluation Review Panel, the Forum on Adolescence and the Committee on Community-Level Youth Programs for the National Academy of Sciences.

She was an avid gardener and enjoyed sailing and hiking in the Southwest.

A memorial service will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. April 18 at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St.

Surviving are her husband of 15 years, Rick L. Cain; a son, Brian Alexander of Washington; a daughter, Karen Alexander McGinley of Catonsville; her father and stepmother, Dr. James and Constance Sedlacek of Zell wood, Fla.; a brother, Roger Sedlacek of Gainesville, Fla.; a stepson, Seth Cain of Catonsville; a stepdaughter, Chani Cain of Hampden; and a granddaughter. A previous marriage to Dr. Karl Alexander ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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