Robert Douglas Jeffs, professor emeritus of urology
and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and
a trailblazing surgeon in the field of pediatric urology,
died on Aug. 28 at the age of 82 in Baltimore. Family
members said the cause of death was pulmonary fibrosis.
Jeffs was the founding chief of Pediatric Urology at
Brady Urological Institute in 1975 and headed that
division for more than 20 years. He was one of the world's
leading experts on urogenital malformations in children,
including bladder and cloacal exstrophies, rare congenital
conditions in which the bladder or other inner-abdominal
organs develop outside the body. In the 1970s, he developed
and perfected a multistage technique to repair bladder
exstrophy and effectively restore normal urinary function
and continence. Considered cutting edge and experimental at
the time, Jeffs' method has become the modern-day standard
of care for most children born with this bladder
"Robert Jeffs took a major birth defect which
consigned children to a reclusive, dismal existence and
devised a three-step technique to repair it, basically
altering the lives of thousands of children throughout the
world," said John Gearhart, who in 1996 succeeded Jeffs as
director of Pediatric Urology.
Jeffs' restless academic mind and brilliant surgical
skills were matched by the generous heart of a true
caregiver, colleagues say.
"Robert Jeffs was the kind of doctor who'd go the
extra mile," Gearhart said. "He'd be the one to take that
last phone call, and patients would come back to see him
even as adults, and even when their problems had nothing to
do with urology."
Patrick Walsh, former chairman and director of the
Brady Urological Institute, who in 1975 lured Jeffs to
Hopkins, called Jeffs a "magnificent surgeon and a
wonderfully sensitive physician."
"He single-handedly conquered one of the most severe
deformities of the genitourinary tract, one which everyone
thought was incurable," Walsh said. "Jeffs' contributions
to the field of pediatric urology and to Hopkins as an
institution cannot be overstated."
Jeffs' other research interests included surgical and
nonsurgical therapies for congenital kidney malformations,
ureter abnormalities, pediatric testicular tumors, Wilms
tumor and polycystic kidney disease.
Born in Toronto, Jeffs put his pre-med education on
hold at the age of 17 to join the Canadian Air Force. After
the end of World War II, he resumed his studies, earning a
medical degree from the University of Toronto.
During a fellowship at London's Great Ormond Street
Hospital, Jeffs became fascinated by the discipline of
pediatric urology, an interest that blossomed into a
career-long passion upon his return to Toronto's Hospital
for Sick Children. Starting in the late 1950s, Jeffs began
the decades-long work that eventually culminated in the
staged approach to surgical repair of bladder exstrophy.
During his career, Jeffs authored and co-authored more
than 140 research papers, book chapters and textbooks.
Jeffs is survived by his wife, Catharine Jeffs, of
Owings Mills; a daughter, Rebecca Jeffs, of Santa Fe; two
sons, Douglas Jeffs, of Baltimore, and Robert Jeffs, of
Missoula, Mont.; a sister, Doreen O'Kane, of Leesburg, Va.;
four grandchildren; one step-grandchild; and one foster