Serving as chair for more than 23 years of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Russell W. Chesney, MD, worked tirelessly to advance the field of pediatric nephrology. The legacy Dr. Chesney left behind will be honored during a special pediatric nephrology tribute in his name on Aug. 18 and 19 at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
The Pediatric Nephrology Tribute to Russell Chesney, MD, is being funded through a $10,000 grant awarded to John Bissler, MD, FedEx Chair of Excellence in Pediatrics and professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the UTHSC College of Medicine, from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Bissler will also serve as the course director during the event.
“Dr. Chesney was an amazing mentor,” Dr. Bissler said. “He mentored our medical and scientific efforts, and beyond that he taught us by example what it was to be a real physician-scientist. He touched our hearts and minds and enabled us to become much more than we ever would have.”
The symposium will bring together leaders in pediatric nephrology in a grand rounds-style setting to discuss research and health information to improve the lives of patients and their families at risk of kidney and urinary tract diseases. Presentations will focus on research with an emphasis on proper training, career development and mentorship.
Dr. Chesney, who passed away in April 2015, was instrumental in pioneering research to treat kidney and urinary tract diseases in children, sitting for one of the first examinations in pediatric nephrology. He was the 24th physician to be certified in pediatric nephrology by the American Board of Pediatrics. Today, the number has grown to more than 900.
David Hains, MD, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and Pediatric Nephrology Training Program Director in the UTHSC College of Medicine, called Dr. Chesney a “powerhouse.”
Among his contributions as a researcher and clinician-scientist in pediatric nephrology are: the first use of captopril in children to treat high blood pressure and diabetic kidney problems; the first use of calcitriol to treat children with renal osteodystrophy, a bone disease that occurs when kidneys do not maintain proper calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood; and a decade long NIH-sponsored collaborative study to look at the use of antibiotics to prevent urinary tract infections in children with vesicoureteral reflux, a condition that occurs when urine from the bladder flows backward into the kidneys.
Dr. Chesney also used his knowledge of taurine amino acid and vitamin D to support the addition of taurine to human infant formulas and to help treat polar bear cubs in zoos around the country. He discovered that distortion of the polar bear cub bones, or rickets, was being caused because the cows’ milk they were given did not contain the same amounts of taurine and vitamin D found in polar bear milk. Polar bear cubs in zoos get extra taurine today, thanks to Dr. Chesney.
“The world will never know a powerhouse in pediatric nephrology again like Russell,” said Dr. Hains, who will serve as one of the session speakers during the tribute. “Anyone working in the field would hope to be a part of a team that made one of these breakthroughs, yet he drove all of them. As amazing of a scientist as he was, he was an even better mentor and friend. Not a single discovery goes by in my lab without me missing him immensely to discuss and get his take on it.”