For a man credited by Pediatrics with writing the most influential endocrinology paper published in its first fifty years, not to mention founding Children’s Division of Endocrinology, John F. Crigler Jr., MD, is humble about his place in the hospital’s history.
“I’m surprised anyone still remembers me,” he jokes. “Since Joe took over the department, I’ve really been a bit of a loafer. I just stop by for special occasions.” One such occasion is coming up this month when—as part of Children’s Employee Appreciation Month—Crigler will be honored for his remarkable 55 years of service to the hospital.
“Joe” is Joseph Majzoub, MD, Crigler’s successor as chief of Endocrinology, who has a different view of what Crigler has meant to Children’s. “Those of us who had the good fortune to work with and learn from Dr. Crigler were imbued with his uncompromising commitment to excellence,” says Majzoub. “When he considers a patient’s diagnosis or treatment, or evaluates data from a research study, or conveys professional or personal advice to one of us, he teaches us of the complexities of life, of the subtleties of the human condition, of the deepness of thought of which the human mind is capable.”
By the time Crigler founded Children’s Division of Endocrinology, he was already an established name in the study and treatment of specific diseases caused by defects in individual genes. He entered Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1939, virtually the same day that he met his future wife, Mary Adele, a coincidence Crigler describes as “stumbling on happiness.” His first internship in medicine brought him to Boston, but after serving in the Navy in World War II, he returned to Johns Hopkins, for training in pediatrics and to work as a fellow with Dr. Lawson Wilkins, the founder of pediatric endocrinology.
In 1952, as a result of his year with Wilkins, Crigler was the first author on a groundbreaking study of infants with salt-losing Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), a genetic disorder in which the adrenal gland produces an overabundance of certain male hormones called androgens. CAH is the most common cause of ambiguous genitalia in newborns. In 1998, Pediatrics—the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics—selected what they felt were the most important papers published in their first 50 years. Crigler’s study was singled out from a field of more than 400 endocrinology papers.
Crigler joined the Department of Medicine at the invitation of Charles Janeway, MD, then chief of Medicine, since they shared a vision of a dedicated endocrinology division. In 1965, the division was formally established. The same year, the General Clinical Research Center opened, funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health with Crigler as Principal Investigator and Program Director, adding essential inpatient, outpatient and laboratory resources dedicated to clinical research to the hospital.
Since it was founded, the division has expanded to include such diverse programs as the Gender Management Service (GeMS) Clinic, the Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program and the Type 2 Diabetes Program. The continued growth and success of the division—which recently received an exceptional ranking by U.S.News & World Report—is a source of continued joy for Crigler. “It gives me untold pleasure to see what we’re up to now,” he says. “With the advances of the last few decades, Joe’s really taken what I began and launched it into space.”
Throughout his years at Children’s, Crigler was known as the “consummate mentor,”training many physicians in the true art and science of medicine. “Working at Children’s brought together my three passions,” says Crigler. “Meticulous care for both children and their families, research to extend our knowledge and ability to improve and heal lives, and teaching, so that our knowledge and its application can grow into the future.”
As emeritus chief of Endocrinology, Crigler has served the hospital in an advisory capacity since Mary Adele passed away in 2007. The same year, Children’s honored them both with the creation of the John F. Crigler Jr. and Mary Adele Sippel Crigler Chair in Pediatric Endocrinology.
Though he no longer practices, Crigler keeps busy with his other legacy—his four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, most of whom were sitting in the front row last month, when he became only the sixth person to receive the Pediatric Endocrine Society’s highest honor—the Judson J. Van Wyk Prize, recognizing a career of scientific excellence, leadership, integrity and dedication to the health of children. “I end where I began, with the wonder of it all,” says Crigler. “I’m so fortunate to have had exceptional mentors who guided my path, outstanding colleagues, and to have had the incredible joy of mentoring so many in turn.”