About The Gazette Search Back Issues Contact Us    
The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University September 11, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 2
Obituary: Robert D. Jeffs, Pioneering Pediatric Urologist, Dies at 82

By Katerina Pesheva
Johns Hopkins Medicine

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 Johns Hopkins' 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 abnormality.

"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 grandchild.


The Gazette | The Johns Hopkins University | Suite 540 | 901 S. Bond St. | Baltimore, MD 21231 | 443-287-9900 |